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The First Meeting of the Nominating Committee

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.

no nameDoes it alarm you that I suggest that one of your measures of success for the first meeting of the nominating committee should be that NO potential nominees’ names are put forward or discussed? It sounds completely counter to the committee’s purpose and reason for being, but hear me out.

I’m a firm believer that the board nomination process should be linked to your strategic plan. If you are clear about the strategic priorities of your organization, then your recruitment should follow. Your focus needs to be on identifying the skill-sets, the experience, and the expertise you need around the board table in order to achieve your priorities.

Hopefully that sounds logical. It is. It may even sound easy. It isn’t.

In my experience, try as you might to structure a thoughtful and strategic process for board nomination, there is a natural desire by committee members and the chair to get right to the meat of the work: naming names and making assignments. To them, everything else can seem like a diversion from the task at hand.

So let me suggest that you do your very best to structure the first meeting to achieve this outcome: Identify a clear set of priorities for this year’s recruitment effort and be prepared to articulate them for the board and staff leadership

Get the committee chair to agree that this is an acceptable and suitably ambitious outcome for the first meeting, and then put it at the top of the agenda. Ideally the committee chair will reinforce this at the start of the meeting by saying, “We won’t be discussing any names today.”

“So, if we aren’t naming names, what goes on the agenda?” 

I encourage you to consider the following:

  • Desired outcome for the process – here’s where the chair articulates the importance of a nominating process that adds to the board’s skill-set and to its ability to achieve the organization’s strategic priorities. This is about quality not quantity.
  • Review the organization’s strategic priorities – if you have a strategic plan in place, this is easy. If not, you’ll want to give some careful thought in advance as to how you articulate a vision for the organization and describe potential or known priorities. Take the time during your meeting to get everyone on the same page.
  • List the skills and abilities you need on the board – this should be a group process that responds to the question: “Based upon the strategic priorities you’ve heard described, what are the skills we should have on our board?” Have them pretend that they are building the board from scratch, and don’t let them start listing the names of possible recruits.
  • Consider the current gaps and set priorities – looking at the lengthy list the committee will have developed during the previous exercise, have the group determine where there are current (or impending) gaps and what the priorities might be for this year’s process. You can ask them, “What are the definite, ‘got to have’s’ for this year?”  And, “What are the ‘it would be nice, but it is not essential’ attributes for this year’s process?”  Be as rigorous as possible in narrowing down the list and getting specific.  What do you mean, for example, by “finance experience” or “experience in advocacy”?
  • List other essential or desirable qualities – spend time talking about meeting any diversity requirements, and consider whether there are special qualities you hope that one or more of your new board members might bring to the board: previous board service, experience with governance, strategic planning leadership, entrepreneurial skills, relationships in a specific community, experience in nurturing innovation, social media skills, etc. Prioritize these as needed and add them to your list.
  • Agree upon how you will articulate these priorities to the board – you may not want to wordsmith your priorities as a committee, but be sure you are all in agreement on what you want to communicate to the board, staff and to others who might be putting forward the names of nominees. The more clear and precise you are at this stage, the more likely you are to get nominees who truly fit your criteria.
  • Set a deadline and a process for encouraging the submission of nominees – your goal here is to get every member of the board to put forward at least one nominee who fits some or all of your criteria. Identifying and nominating potential board members are basic responsibilities of board service. Don’t let board members off the hook.
  • Set the next meeting date – need I say more?

If you don’t have a nominating committee and the full board takes responsibility for this process what I’ve described here will still work.  The key with the board or with the committee is not to let them default to the, “Who do you know?” approach during your first discussion.

While setting the agenda for the first meeting is just one step in a longer process, don’t underestimate its importance.  You only get one chance to get your process off on the right foot, and if your goal is to get more strategic about how you recruit, the agenda described here just might do it.

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