Imagine getting excited about volunteering for something, and then waiting six or seven months before you actually get to do it. Can we accelerate the process by “pre-qualifying” candidates?
One of the most frustrating parts of board recruitment is the length of time — often months — between talking with a prospect and then bringing him onto the board… months during which the candidate usually becomes less interested. For instance, a person might be tentatively asked in January, discussed by the governance/nominating committee in February, have her name brought to the board for discussion in March, officially interviewed/asked in April, elected by the board in May, and her first board meeting is in July! Some boards invite potential recruits to observe a board meeting before deciding whether to join, which adds even more time.
To accelerate this process, some boards invite candidates to the board meeting at which they will be voted on. The hitch, of course, is that it makes it very difficult for a board NOT to approve someone who is already in attendance (albeit asked to sit in the hall for a few minutes).
Instead, think about “pre-approving” some candidates. Often a few names arise of people who are already known well by several other people on the board: perhaps a community leader, a mayor, a long-term activist, and so forth. In such cases, the board can have a preliminary discussion about the candidate and provisionally approve him or her as a board member. The full board then cedes to the governance committee the power to make a final decision on the candidate based on the outcome of the governance committee’s discussion with him or her. The committee members will interview the candidate, then quickly discuss among themselves how the interview went. If the committee members agree, the person can be immediately notified of his or her acceptance, and can attend the next board meeting.
The accelerated process:
- The governance or nominating committee brings a list of perhaps five prospects to the board. Of the group, there is immediate consensus that one of them would be terrific, and she is pre-approved: elected to the board pending confirmation by the governance committee and the board chair.
- The governance committee approaches the pre-approved candidate, and if committee members are still positive and she is interested, the committee reports by phone back to the board chair. Assuming there are no other problems, the committee goes back to the candidate and tells her she has been accepted. For the candidate, the gap between agreeing to join and being accepted is only a couple of weeks.
- The other four prospects are also approached, but the governance committee discusses each of them before deciding which to bring to the board. They may, for example, decide to pass on one of them, and bring the other three nominees to the full board for a vote.
Remember that most board candidates need to be investigated before being invited to join. Even just one bad board member can set back the board and the organization for years. But with life moving at Internet speed, let’s accelerate board recruitment — when we can — to keep pace.