Identifying new trustees for your board of directors is one of the most important functions any nonprofit board performs. And with nearly 2 million board seats opening up in this country every year, board recruiting can be challenging. For that reason, many nonprofits opt to turn to board recruiting services like BoardAssist for help. Choosing the best board recruiting service for your nonprofit is critical.
What questions should you be asking as you think through who will perform the very important function of board recruiting for you?
1. Is the service a nonprofit 501c3 itself?
Many services are not. Ones that aren’t 501c3 nonprofits might provide a terrific service but their primary purpose may not be to serve the nonprofit community. Where does their money come from? At BoardAssist, a large part of our funding come from nonprofit foundations who value how we support their grantees. Is the service you are evaluating paid by a corporation to place their employees on boards? Does this create the wrong incentives? Instead of focusing on finding you the perfect board member, are they focused on placing their client’s employees. BoardAssist views their client as the nonprofit. For-profit services often view someone else (such as the company paying them) as their client and as such, their primary focus will be on serving someone other than you.
2. Is the service based in the city where you are located?
The nonprofit business is certainly global in the 21st century, and while a service located in a different city than where your board meets might be terrific, we believe there is no way they can have the candidate base knowledge, access and expertise a well-established local player would have. BoardAssist has over 20,000 NYC candidates in our database. We thinks its important to work with the service that knows, and can deliver for you, the top candidates in your city.
3. How long has the service been in existence?
BoardAssist has been serving the nonprofit community since early 2001. Across the US there are a number of services that have been helping our community for even longer. Younger services may try to make it appear they have been in the board search business longer than they have. One quick check is to look up the principals on LinkedIn. Do they list 2 jobs during the same time period? Perhaps they had another full time job while building their new board matching service so they haven’t really been in this space full time as long as you might have thought. Is board recruiting a new service that an older organization has just begun providing? How long have they actually been doing board recruiting in your city?
4. What are the credentials of the individuals who will be performing your search?
Board recruiting is a challenging task. Its important to find a service that will designate someone you fully trust to perform for you and your board. Look up the person who will be working on your search on LinkedIn. Don’t settle for just reviewing the bio that service’s website provides. Do they have board search experience? Or just nonprofit sector or governance experience generally? BoardAssist’s Executive Director has been in the search space since 1995.
5. Does the service publish their rates online?
Many services choose to negotiate their board recruiting fees on a case by case basis. Are you confident you are paying the same rate as others who have used that service? What reason does the service give for not being fully transparent and publishing their rates online?
6. Does the service track how their candidates have performed once recruited for a board?
BoardAssist surveys annually to see how our candidates are performing. Have they stayed on the board where placed? Have they met their financial commitment? Over half our placements serve for at least 5 years with over 90% serving as leaders within 12 months of being placed. And the majority generate a multiple of what they financially pledged. Does the service you are considering track metrics such as these and others that are important to you?
7. Does the service provide a relatively comprehensive list of past nonprofits they have helped?
Is the service fully transparent in disclosing who they have supported in the past? Or do they provide a short sample of some boards they have helped? What reason do they give if they won’t provide a full historical client list? Is the client list specific as to who they have helped with board recruiting, or does it include nonprofits the service has helped with board trainings and other services?
8. How involved is the service beyond simply identifying candidates for you?
Some services simply list your board opening on their website. Do they screen candidates to ensure they meet the board requirements you have specified (including being able to meet the financial commitment expected annually)? Do they stay involved once they identify a candidate for you, making sure the interview process is moving along? Do they help you “close” the candidate when you get to the offer stage ensuring that the time your board spent with the candidate leads to a successful nomination?
9. Is board matching the primary service this provider offers?
There are loads of terrific nonprofit support services that offer a wide range of services to the nonprofit community. At BoardAssist, our sole focus is supporting the nonprofit community with board member recruitment. If the service you are considering also focuses on candidate training, board mediations, and development work, for example, how much of their expertise is really in board development? What percentage of their time do they spend on board recruiting?
10. Will the service allow you to work with other board recruiting services simultaneously?
Board recruiting is tough. Your nonprofit needs to use every resource it can to find the best possible new trustees for your team. We believe strongly that our top priority should be to ensure that your needs are met. If there is an additional service you can use while also working with BoardAssist, we encourage working with them as well. Board matching services that have your best interests at heart should feel the same way.
We wish you luck as you selectively add to your board of trustees. We would love to help you if your board is located in the New York area. For more on what to think about as you add to your board, see our Top Twelve Tips for Courting New Board Members.
The preceding article is by Cynthia Remec, Executive Director and founder of nonprofit BoardAssist, New York's leading personalized board matching service. This article was originally published July 26 on the BoardAssist blog. A nationally recognized authorty on nonprofit governance issues, and highly sought after speaker, Ms. Remec has lectured on nonprofit governance at events for the business schools of Columbia, Harvard, Stanford and Wharton, as well as at forums for government agencies, leading financial service institutions and Fortune 100 corporations.