Trouble finding board directors? How to get more
What is the issue with recruitment?
In this blog post, Pat and Bonnie address the issue of recruitment. This is the second in a three-part series titled From Meet n Greet to Board Seat; here we’ll focus on ways to get owners to take a central role in condo affairs, and on the not-for-profit side, how to reach supporters with a keen interest in the organization and support them through the application process for a board seat. In the next post, we’ll discuss how to deal with onboarding of the new recruits and later, how to deliver high-quality orientation that inspires them to continue learning throughout their term of office.
Bonnie Oakes Charron: First let’s have a look at some ways to recruit in the not-for-profit sector.
There are a variety of ways to go about finding new directors depending on the size of the organization, its budget, and capacity to undertake the search process. Current board members can draw on their own personal and professional networks to identify candidates. This approach can often lead to success but can also lead to a board that lacks diversity – our personal networks are often reflective mostly of those like ourselves.
Ensuring that all candidates are filtered through a Nominating or Governance Committee can mitigate some issues here – by ensuring that a process is in place for treating the candidates equitably and assessing their suitability.
Outreach to personal networks can be supplemented with advertising. Again, depending on the organization, publicizing the vacancies could take place in newspapers or industry newsletters, on social media, or with posters in community centres, schools, and other gathering places. If a bigger budget is available, and it is important to locate a hard to find skill-set, or specific type of director – working with a recruitment specialist is always an option.
Be sure to determine whether they have the appropriate background and expertise to assist in your pursuit of new board members. Some larger cities even have municipal or volunteer sector programs that train board candidates and can provide an inventory of graduates.
Pat, how are things working in terms of recruitment for condo boards? How do you go about it?
Most condo boards struggle to find directors for their boards — some even struggle to get owners interested at all. Most condo boards wait to think about nominations until the month before the annual general meeting. This does not leave much time to recruit as by then it is late.
A much better way — in my opinion — is to create a nominations committee. This committee ensures that candidates nominated have expressed interest in the job, have agreed to serve, and understand the roles and responsibilities they would be taking on. Creating a nomination committee that includes current or past directors, and owners who have never been part of the board ensures that prospective candidates get the right idea about serving on the board. It also lightens the workload of the current directors.
I recommend that the nomination committee be created around six months prior to the AGM. This gives the committee lots of time to find potential candidates and present the list of nominees to the board and ensure that their names are included in AGM notices. Nominations can still be open to the floor at the AGM, but the committee helps ensure at least one nominee for each position.
Bonnie, what kinds of things should the board be checking out once some candidates have been identified? What should they be looking for?
Bonnie Oakes Charron:
Once the initial outreach has taken place, and a pool of potential directors exists, the next step is to vet the candidates. Assessing the potential contribution of each candidate to the board is very important. A fundamental consideration is potential conflict of interest. Review the candidate’s background, work experiences, current affiliations, and community participation – looking for any current or potential activities that may conflict with their duty to act as a director. This could range from serving as a director on a related board in the same industry, having a family relationship to one of the other directors, or having a current role with one of your organization’s funders, sponsors, or collaborators.
Another conflict can be serving on too many boards at once – or being ‘over-boarded’. Being a board director is an active role, requiring time and energy. If someone is serving on multiple boards, will they have the dedication to your board that you require?
The next thing to assess is their understanding of governance and the role that a director plays. Your advertisement or outreach efforts should have communicated the level of knowledge required. The board provides oversight to the CEO or Executive Director at a not-for-profit. Potential directors must have experience, knowledge, or other means of contributing that is at a level appropriate for providing oversight.
What specific knowledge is required? What kind of experience? Perhaps there is a major capital project underway, or a key community consultation coming up. Recruiting individuals with solid experience in these areas might make it to the list of competencies sought. A matrix can be drawn up outlining all the knowledge, experience, or other attributes wanted in a complete board.
Does this resonate for you with condo boards Pat?
The situation is a bit different for condos because most potential directors are owners of the condominium corporation. One could say that they are already pre-qualified by way of their home base. All the background vetting that you mention does provide some great ideas, but alas it is rare that potential directors for a condo board are interviewed or any type of reference check performed. They are all neighbours, and people are already familiar with each other. It is rare for outsiders to run for the board, so candidates aren’t usually complete strangers.
Bonnie: Can you tell us a bit more about constructing a matrix for a not-for-profit board? And how it is used?
Bonnie Oakes Charron:
For sure – playing the matrix….unlike the movie – no high-tech gadgets are necessary, just a paper and pen.
There will be many ways to ‘slice and dice’ the data that makes up a board recruitment matrix. You could have columns for knowledge, experience, diversity, education, age, etc. For the skill-based attributes, you could break it down by level – introductory, moderate, or expert level of expertise. You may also look for qualities: confidence, empathy, capacity to serve, demographics, work style, etc.
Capacity to serve can take many forms. An example might be whether directors pay their own travel, or not. If your board meetings are held across Canada – and directors must pay their own way – it is important to be upfront about these costs and determine whether the candidates are willing and able to take part.
Other unique categories could be special experience related to the organization – such as ‘overseas service’ for a charity involved with the international community. Or perhaps an arts funder requires that directors’ addresses be in the same city where the theatre is located. There will be as many matrices as there are boards – no organization is alike.
Pat: So once the applications are in, what’s next?
Bonnie Oakes Charron: Application and Assessment
The preliminary screening will include a review of initial applications and an early assessment around fit, often by the Nominating or Governance Committee. One way to make it easier to compare candidates is to provide them with a common template where they can write a Statement of Personal Interest. The document should draw out the highlights from their previous work and volunteer roles and allow them to write in their own words what attracted them to the organization in question, and what makes them a good candidate for a board seat. This offers them the opportunity to showcase their strengths and show how they can contribute to the mission of the organization. Having this document, in addition to a CV, should help those charged with doing the initial screening to determine the candidate’s fit.
Fit could mean different things, depending on the board – the right knowledge, the right background, ability to fulfill key roles, etc. Initial impressions can be verified in a personal interview, and perhaps attendance at a key event where other directors will be present. Observing how candidates interact with the current board may provide some insight into their comfort level with the culture and group dynamic of the current board.
How does this part of the process unfold at a condo board Pat?
The board application process itself is usually an ad hoc procedure. Owners are invited to nominate themselves when the AGM notice goes out, or they can nominate themselves or someone else at the AGM. There is no pre-vetting, you can even nominate someone who isn’t there or – depending on the condo’s bylaws – who isn’t even an owner.
A much better way would be to create a nomination committee that would include former and current directors and for them to work to find good candidates to run. Getting the committee to start earlier – even six months before the AGM – will ensure a more thorough approach is taken.
It would be great if the Nominating Committee did a review of each candidate’s key skills such as finance, leadership, etc. Taking the time to ensure that the candidates have the time, the skills, and the knowledge will really pay off in the long run.
Over to you Bonnie – what’s our next step? What about interviews?
Bonnie Oakes Charron: Let’s talk about both Interviews and Reference checks.
Interviews might be conducted by the Board Chair and Executive Director, or the Board’s Nominating Committee, or a selection of board members. The interview should be designed to probe whether the candidate has enough knowledge to understand the issues facing the organization and the important decisions that the board is charged with making. Further, the interview is another place where the candidate can display their ability to share their point of view, respectfully. Reference checks may provide additional information that could assist the interviewing committee in making final decisions. This might be especially true with softer skills such as the candidate’s interpersonal and leadership skills.
What about condo boards Pat, is it necessary to have both interviews and reference checks?
These rarely happen. Some condo boards require criminal checks, but for the most part any reference check is informal.
But directors do ask for role descriptions. They have a lot of questions about what the job entails, what the time commitment is, etc.? They often want to know if anyone has more power, but alas, it is one vote per person – all equal!
Bonnie Oakes Charron:
The age-old question – who has more power. I won’t touch that one! But I will offer a few suggestions around role descriptions and other documentation that will make the recruitment process simpler.
It always helps to have a process that is documented, consistent year-over-year, and includes options. Consider implementing these three types of tools:
Begin your recruitment process with clearly written position profiles that outline the expectations of a board director including the specific role they will be invited to take. The document could begin by listing out the duties of all board members, followed by any specific roles or projects to be undertaken by the individual. Spell out any time or financial commitments in the profile to ensure everyone is on the same page – it might not be obvious to a board candidate that they are expected to make an annual donation – if this is the case at your charity. Or their interpretation of a ‘reasonable’ time commitment might be 10 hours a month – and the Board Chair’s is 20 hours per month.
A second tool that can help setup the recruitment process for success is a succession plan. Ahead of recruitment season – review the list of directors who are departing, and note any special attributes, knowledge, etc, that might make it a challenge to replace them. Mark them as high risk to replace and identify any critical knowledge to be transferred. Maintaining this information about all board members will help keep annual recruitment needs on the radar.
Lastly, what are some options if the candidates aren’t suitable for a board role? You could establish advisory councils or committees – perhaps chaired by a Past President or former Chair. This is a great way to gain valuable input from a variety of stakeholders. These groups can often consider draft proposals, brainstorm on future projects, or examine difficult to solve issues and make recommendations. You can also create special roles for key groups. Bylaws can be written that give authority for one board seat to be reserved for a certain constituency. These reserved roles can be a great way to give a voice to an important stakeholder group – just be sure they are wearing their ‘governance’ hat when seated at the board table.
What do you think Pat, could these tools help in a condo environment?
Definitely. Having a succession plan on file is a great idea that could help structure the recruitment process and avoid last minute nominations. As we discussed in the first post in this series about increasing engagement, keep track of anyone interested in a director role by noting it down in the succession plan. It will serve as a reminder to give them jobs and put them on committees throughout the year. The role descriptions are also a great idea – we often hear the question from owners around what each director does – what the difference between the President and the Treasurer for example. Having a document for them to consult makes it easy.
It’s tough but not impossible to find new directors
Whether a condo board or a not-for-profit board, it can be difficult, but not impossible, to fill your board vacancies each year. It looks like condo boards could certainly learn from some of the practices found in not for profit boards. Selecting those aspects that benefit them and elevating their board practices with a deliberate and documented process – suitable for the size of the board.
Come back soon for our third post on how to deliver inspiring orientation and successfully execute all the onboarding requirements.