Finding "just right" board members among people you don't know

publication date: Aug 9, 2013

What's the first question your board asks when it's time to look for new members? "Who do we know?" If you're strategic about board recruitment, the next step is to compare the list of "people we know" to the list of recruitment priorities, skill gaps and networking needs you've developed.

Then you realize that "people we know" just won't fill the bill. You need to start looking at people you don't know.

Discover the right names in 90 minutes

But how do you recruit people you don't know? Jan Masaoka of Blue Avocado has a helpful tactic she calls the "Blue-Ribbon Nominating Committee." Why would people you don't know agree to this role than to board service? Because you're asking them to come to one meeting that lasts just 90 minutes.

To identify your blue-ribbon members, brainstorm a list of 25 people you'd really like to invite to the board. Forget the notion that they'll likely refuse board involvement because they're busy, too important, not interested or not committed to your organization. You're asking for 90 minutes of their time. That's all.

Let them know, Masaoka advises, that at the meeting you'll give them a nice lunch, deliver a 15-minute update on your critical path, and ask them to suggest a few people who could help with the most vital strategic work facing your charity right now.

Planning the nomination meeting

Out of the 25 you've invited (and reminded), you may have about ten at the event. Current board members should serve as hosts. When you present your critical path, focus on the main issues and challenges as though you were already speaking to an insider group connected with your charity. Then ask your guests to suggest people who can help you with those concerns.

Masaoka emphasizes that you must describe what you need these proposed recruits to do rather than who they are. Name specific accomplishments, such as helping forge a new partnership with a particular group, finding someone to lead a fundraising project, or working with staff to develop a budget in response to adverse decisions by funders.

With luck, you'll end the meeting with 30 to 50 names of people who have been suggested because they can help you meet critical challenges, not just because they're the usual "people of affluence and influence."

Step by step through the first contact

Now you'll start calling those recommendations, beginning with the top candidates. Don't hesitate to let them know the name of the person who suggested them, and why they were suggested. Masaoka offers this sample opening:

"Emily, I'm calling because Sally Carlson suggested you for our board of directors. She did this because she knows your amazing track record at running luncheons and because she thought you would like working with our organization. Would you be willing to have coffee with me and our executive director to discuss this a little more?"

Your candidates will take you seriously because you've already mentioned the name of someone they know. At the very least you've made a new contact, perhaps a new friend for your organization. And if "Emily" joins the board, she'll understand what you expect her to accomplish and be ready to get started.

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