Round Up the Usual Suspects…NOT!

30 04 2009

Populating Your Board III: Round up the Usual Suspects…NOT!

Ever notice how a social gathering is richer when there are people with different backgrounds in the mix? Conversations flow about all the different experiences and talents in the room.

The same thing is true for a board. But when it comes time to fill vacancies, too many boards only reach out to people they’re already comfortable with. What does that mean for the organization? Well, it means that you’re leaving an enormous amount of talent untapped. It means that changing the groupthink of the board is that much harder. It’s not a good idea to stagnate in the best of times. In challenging times, it could be a death knell.

OK. So now you have a grid with all the types of people you need on your board (see April 26 post “Too Many Lawyers”). How do you find new people without tapping just the usual suspects? Again, a systematic approach works, aided by serendipity.

  • First, recognize that finding new board members is an ongoing process. Waiting until it’s time for nominations is way too late. Just like cultivating new donors by bringing them along the path of interested party to small donor to major donor, by the time nominations rolls around, you should have cultivated several people as possible nominees to fill the vacancies.
  • Next, if there isn’t already one in your organization, create a nominating committee/board development committee. This is the group that will filter through the people that emerge in the process, and reach out to prospective directors during the course of the year. They’re also the ones who should be tasked with training your board in all the things they need to know and be able to do.
  • Now, engage your board and upper level staff. Get buy-in by carefully introducing the concept of building your board systematically, making each of them aware of the holes you are trying to fill and why.
  • Arm your ambassadors with exciting information about your organization, and guidance on how to engage others in conversations about your organization. Of course, this is something they should have no matter what – that’s how you spread the word about your good works and gain potential supporters.
  • Encourage your board members to talk about the organization, not just about their profession and family. Whether they are meeting new people at a cocktail party, a concert, in the grocery store, at a parent-teacher meeting, there are almost always opportunities to start a conversation about your group. “Right now I’m working with this amazing organization that helps homeless people get off the streets and reenter society!” “The organization I’m involved in gives at-risk kids books to own.” These are great conversation starters. They encourage the other person to ask, “how interesting, tell me about it!” Really…think about it. Isn’t that a lot more interesting than the typical, “so, what do you do?” “I’m a lawyer,” exchange?
  • Now explore a further relationship. Your ambassadors should know what options are available for engaging this new person. The board development committee should be informed of this potential interest, and suggest ways to engage. Perhaps offer a tour of the facility or to send her some literature. Give his name to your outreach staff, to invite him to a program. During the course of the year, learn about his background and talents. If it’s someone of interest, start the conversation about potentially joining the board.

How does this differ from the old boys’ or girls’ network? The key is to view every encounter with a new person as a potential source for fresh thinking on your board. Your board members may have met this person at a cocktail party held by a friend, but it’s someone new. They may have met at their child’s school, but it’s not someone they see all the time.

One more thing. While your board is looking outside their circle of friends, take a good look at your donors.  Consistent donors are people who are invested in your organization. They care about your cause. Pick up the phone and call them; take them out for coffee; engage them in your vision. Consistent donors make good prospects for your board. See what they can offer besides dollars.

Is there anything wrong with including people from the old boys’ network in this process? Not really. But if that’s the only place you look, then you’re doing your organization a severe disservice. And really, you’re also doing all those unengaged people a disservice as well. Just think of all the people who miss the opportunity to help your wonderful organization!

 

 

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