Anyone you hope to recruit to your board has questions, often unspoken, that you need to answer if you want their meaningful commitment. I’ll focus on seven such questions here. In my book, The Ultimate Board Member’s Book, you’ll find others, as well as the answers board candidates find most satisfying.
Why was I recruited?
Increasingly, board members are recruited according to a matrix. The existing board is analyzed to determine the areas where it needs strengthening. These criteria are drawn from your organizational plan, with the goal of building a board whose qualities will best support your vision and goals. Say you’re attempting to recruit a marketing whiz for your board. Make it clear to him or her that he or she may well be asked to chair the marketing committee and its planning process. The same with any financial or insurance professional.
What does the job entail?
Whether you enlist with a formal contract or simply a handshake, there’s no escaping the fact that anyone joining your board is signing on for a wide-ranging set of responsibilities. They need to be told that at any given time, they may be called upon to be ambassador, compliance officer, policymaker, fundraiser, advocate, or manager. They also need to understand that good board members attend meetings, ensure appropriate financial, legal, tax, and personnel review procedures, and debate and formulate new policies when needed.
How much of my time will you need?
Whether you’re recruiting a new board member or someone to serve on a standing committee, be unequivocally clear about the time commitment. The number of meetings. The number of committees. The number of hours spent in fundraising training, cultivation sessions, and special events. Don’t ask someone for a commitment until they know exactly what you expect from them.
What exactly is your organization’s mission?
A large part of a board member’s responsibility is to be a “keeper of the mission.” Therefore, it’s imperative your candidate thoroughly understands your organization’s mission. It is the message he or she will carry into the community. It will guide, inspire, energize, and describe the importance of what you’re doing to those he or she will be recruiting for the board, soliciting for gifts, or involving as volunteers.
Am I legally liable?
Each state in the United States has defined the legal responsibilities and liabilities for nonprofit organizations and their board members. Generally speaking, if as a result of your organization’s activities, someone is injured, killed, or wrongfully dealt with, and if that person sues, a board member is liable. Don’t sugarcoat this to your candidate. At the same time, let him or her know you have an insurance policy for officers and directors.
What’s your plan?
To effectively recruit board members, raise money, market your organization, or conduct any kind of programming, there has to be a comprehensive institutional plan that’s strategic, inclusive, and realistic. It must be based on your organization’s vision but framed by the realities of the financial resources available and the social and economic climate in which you’re operating. Today, those on whom your organization depends for funding expect to see detailed blueprints. Let your board candidate know you have such a plan. Better yet, share it with him or her. If you don’t have a plan, now is the time to start the process.
Will I need to raise money?
A board member’s first responsibility in helping your organization raise funds—whatever specific role you play—is to give. Long ago we buried the excuse that “my time is money” or “I give my time so I don’t have to give money.” Board members sign up to take on all of philanthropy’s tasks to the degree they can—joining, serving, giving, and asking. The job isn’t multiple choice. As for your candidate’s specific role in fundraising, ideally he or she will play one or more of three important ones—asker, cultivator, or steward.
Asker is self-evident. And if your candidate isn’t comfortable with asking, he or she may want to be a relationship-builder or cultivator. Cultivators bring people into contact with the organization, listen for their interests, connect them with the people and programs that match their interests, and generally prepare to be asked. Lastly, stewards are there to keep the relationship flourishing after the gift is made.
Being a board member in America’s nonprofit sector is one of the most enriching experiences a person can have. It will be frustrating at times, and exhilarating at others; it will made demands, but give huge rewards; and it will connect people in a productive and noble way. Start your board candidates off on the right foot by clarifying everything they need to know to serve your organization with accomplishment.