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In Board Member Recruitment, It Matters Who Asks

by Guest Blogger
We are pleased to present this guest post from Jeff Wahlstrom, managing director of Starboard Leadership Consulting. He has more than 30 years of hands-on experience as a nonprofit leader, board member, and consultant to an extensive list of clients, large and small, throughout Maine. For more on this topic, learn about MANP’s full strategic board recruitment toolkit.

ask questionBoard recruitment is a board responsibility. One more time. Board recruitment is a board responsibility. Yet too often the recruitment duties fall to the executive director (E.D.) or CEO. They shouldn’t. While the E.D. may be an ideal member of the recruitment team—joining a board member in making the ask—the E.D. should not take the lead or recruit alone.  The board members you really want on your board will expect a board member (ideally one who is a peer) to ask them.

Let’s assume that your nominating committee has gone through the list of potential names, considered carefully which ones best meet your current needs, and then placed them in order of priority (“we’ll ask her first, and if she turns us down we’ll ask him next”).

It is now time to make the ask.

So, when you are finally at the point where you are ready to consider who will make the ask, rather than all eyes turning to the E.D. in hopes that he or she will take it from here, the questions posed to board members is: “Which of us is the right one to ask this board candidate to join our board?”  Being the “right one” usually means that the board member has a relationship of some kind  with the candidate or has an appropriate connection that will be helpful in getting the appointment. That relationship or connection may not exist within your committee membership, but there may be someone else on the board who can help.

Even if there is not a natural relationship or connection among the board members, hopefully the person you are recruiting has some existing connection to the organization or has demonstrated some level of support for the mission.  A donor, a previous or current volunteer, or someone who has attended one of your events will be more likely to be receptive to a call and a request for an appointment.  Stephen King, Bill Gates, or Oprah Winfrey are less likely to take or return your call…unless, of course, they’ve already demonstrated a real interest in your organization.

If you are trying to recruit someone who has had no meaningful prior connection to your organization, understand that the odds are stacked against you.  Keep in mind that you are about to ask this individual to give you one of his or her most valuable commodities—time.  So if you think he or she might consider a phone call requesting a financial contribution to be “out of the blue,” it is likely that your request to serve on the board will be just as surprising.

It may not be the time to make the ask.

If you don’t have the “right” relationship on the board, and the person you are hoping to recruit does not have a real connection to your organization, it makes sense to consider how you might set the stage for a future ask (maybe 12-18 months from now).  Consider how you might build a relationship with this individual and who should be involved in doing that (board members are ideal).  There are lots of options here, but the key is to be strategic in building a meaningful relationship with the organization and not just among the individuals involved. One organization I know works with current and former board members and close friends to invite potential board candidates to join them for a tour of their facility and to learn more about the organization.

Do the work needed to build a relationship with your organization, and then make sure the “right” person makes the ask, and you will greatly increase your odds of success.

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