Susan Sanow has been a wonderful board member on most of the boards she's served on, and a terrible board member some of the time. So she knows of what she speaks:
Board members wanted. Requirements: Warm Body. Nice. Has a title or an employer or a race/ethnicity that will look good on the board roster. Not so important they would look down on how our board operates.
1. Just have the executive director interview and invite new board members. Who needs board chair/board member input?
2. Just have the board chair interview and invite new board members. Who needs executive director input?
3. Use this phrase: "We'd love you to join the board… and don't worry, it won't be that much work."
4. Shhh! Don't mention the personal giving or fundraising requirement if there is one. No one would join if they heard about it!
5. Recruit people who already serve on nine boards and advisory committees in the community. What's one more? Afterall, they are so well connected.
6. Avoid people who might rock the boat . . . that is, "be disruptive." After all, the main thing board members do is approve decisions already made by the executive director.
7. Never antagonize a current board member by suggesting that their best friend (or neighbor or dentist) isn't really suited for the board.
8. Recruit a lawyer without checking to see whether their specialty is relevant to your organization or if it's something like entertainment law or personal injury.
9. Recruit a CPA without checking to see whether they understand nonprofit accounting and small businesses or whether they specialize in something like Accounts Receivable collection for a bank or minimizing taxes for corporations by moving accounts offshore.
10. Bring a new board memberto his or her first meeting without orientation or preparation. They'll catch on in a year or two.
11. Because of "conflict of interest," avoid any board member who really knows anything about the field. If, for example, you're a disabilities organization, don't have any disabilities professionals, advocates or clients on the board. They'll just complicate things.
12. Don't scare off a possible new board member by letting them know about that big payroll taxes liability or that pending lawsuit from a volunteer who got hurt.
13. Never ask them what they'd like to get out of being on the board. That would sound like you're implying it might be OK to have a selfish reason to be on a board.
Follow these 13 guidelines and hope you get lucky. Oh wait a minute, is 13 a lucky or an unlucky number?
Susan Sanow is a Project Manager at Blue Avocado. She also works with Volunteer Fairfax in Fairfax, Virginia. She has served on boards and attended many board meetings as staff for over 25+ years. Board meetings are like watching reality TV, soap operas or train wrecks. All may occur at any given meeting. Good work can occur, too. You really never know until you adjourn.