Emily Rabbitt is associate editor, research content and knowledge, for the ASAE Foundation.
To build the most effective board for your association, clearly define the required commitments and qualifications for the job and use those parameters to select board members.
Hiring a new staff member typically involves identifying the necessary skills and experience for the role and assessing candidates for abilities that complement the staff skill sets you already have. But how often is that process applied to board member selection?
Recruit the Right Board: Proven Processes for Selecting Critical Competencies examines leading practices in board recruitment, selection, and nomination identified in ASAE Foundation research. Among the recommendations in the book: Use a nominating committee to identify and communicate the commitment and experience expected of board members. Then, apply those parameters for recruitment and selection.
A board member job description should lay out the expected service commitments of the role. Explain how often meetings are held, what preparation will be required, and whether board members are expected to participate in person, on the phone, or virtually. Also specify giving and fundraising commitments: Are board members expected to donate or solicit a certain amount in financial contributions each year? This information allows potential applicants to assess their ability to perform the required duties and ensures they are not surprised by expectations if selected.
Job descriptions should also list the necessary qualifications. Some boards require that members be employed in the industry, while some have a certain number of seats designated for academics or members of the public. These types of requirements are typically fixed and should be clearly communicated. Qualifications also include experience, knowledge of the field and organization, and competencies like strategic thinking, and a team-orientated. Many boards seek to include members from diverse demographic groups and different backgrounds, and these goals for board composition should be spelled out as well.
After creating more comprehensive board member job descriptions, leaders were able to narrow the field to fewer, more qualified candidates.
Nominating committees can use the experience and attributes identified in the call for nominations to develop the questions asked in the application, and as the basis for evaluating candidates during the selection process. Consistently applying the same requirements identified at the outset of the nominations process is important to achieving the desired board makeup.
Recruit the Right Board cites examples of associations that had many unqualified applicants for board positions. After creating more comprehensive board member job descriptions, leaders at these organizations were able to narrow the field to fewer, more qualified candidates. This result had the added benefit of making the screening process easier for staff.
The next step toward building the right board is to develop a consistent selection process, which helps to ensure fairness. Some organizations use detailed systems with matrices to compare each candidate against the criteria enumerated in the job description. Others have scripted interview questions for candidates, so reviewers can compare responses. The resources section of Recruit the Right Board includes tools contributed by associations that participated in the research that other organizations may wish to adapt for their own use.