Recently a regular reader of this posting contacted me and asked about approaching potential members to join a board. She was interested in knowing how to approach a person to suggest their serving on the board and to become an active participant in the organization. Is there a special way to approach people and should someone have a formal role with a non-profit organization before they can solicit another person to become involved in the governance of the agency? These are just some of the issues and concerns we think about when reaching out to a potential members.
There are actually a number of ways to invite someone to become active in an agency’s board of directors. The process begins with identifying people who would be appropriate for the board of directors. It is important to assess the present composition of the board and what human resources are needed. In general, most organizations would like to have people on the board who are influential in the community; who have the potential of contributing financially; who are well connected with people who have the potential to support the organization; who are politically connected within the community; who are willing to assist the agency; and who have appropriate social skills and can encourage others to be involved and supportive of the organizations programs.
In some organizations there is a committee that either focuses on bringing new members on to the board each year or this function is incorporated into the board development committee. The committee would then ask the present board members to recommend people who match the criteria that have been established and a list would be compiled of those who could fill the vacancies. Vacancies occur as a result of natural attrition due to members completing their term of service or when members resign due to changes in their personal or professional lives. It is a good idea to always have a list of potential board members who could be approached when there are such openings.
Once the candidates are identified the issue is how they should be approached and who should approach them. Serving on a board of directors should be an enjoyable experience as it is a volunteer position. Often it is an informal social experience that allows people to network and broaden their social sphere of influence. As such, the potential member should be approached by someone who is involved in the organization and has a relationship with the candidate. When there is an already existing personal relationship it is much easier to begin the process of recruiting someone to become involved with the organization. If there is no existing relationship, then a “cold call” is made and an initial meeting is requested by either the chair of the board, one of the officers, and/or the director of the agency.
The setting at a local coffee shop or restaurant can often set the stage for a friendly warm and somewhat informal conversation. The discussion can focus on the reasons the present member is approaching the potential member. If there are common interests and concern for social issues or delivering services then this becomes a starting point to engage the person in the conversation. Of course it is important to focus on what the person has to contribute through their involvement and how the organization will benefit from their being a member of the board. At the same time, it is helpful to let the new person know what they will gain from their investment in the organization and the reasons they should volunteer their time.
Of course depending on the candidate he or she will either ask to think about the request or they will answer on the spot. The person should be encouraged to ask questions and a package of materials describing the organization, the role of the board and the responsibilities and obligations of board members should be available and given to the potential member to take with them and to review. A second meeting or a follow-up telephone conversation is sometimes appropriate.
When the potential member accepts the invitation it is then time to begin the orientation process and discuss the person’s initial assignment(s) on committee(s). The planning that goes into recruiting and orienting new members will benefit the organization in the long run since it will produce committed and involved supporters who will in turn be able to recruit new people in the future. The board of directors will serve the best interest of the organization to the extent that the non profit invests in building and strengthening the board. It is an investment well worth making.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.