We spend so much time
talking about how to recruit, that we thought it was time for the flip side -
the top 10 signs that your board is NOT ready to recruit.
Are you considering board recruitment for all the wrong
reasons? See how many of these warning signs apply to your board!
If your board has one of
these signs, we would recommend you reconsider recruiting new board members. If
your board shows more than one of these signs, stop immediately! Its time
to do some major readjustment before bringing anyone new into the mix.
Here they are - the Top 10
Signs of Recruitment UNreadiness:
If the board doesnt
understand that it is not the CEO but the Board that is in the box at the top
of the organizational chart, you are not ready to recruit. Being in that top
box means accountability for everything that happens in the organization. If
your board doesnt understand that the buck doesnt stop with the CEO
but with the board, then recruiting should be the furthest thing from your
Weve seen this: For several years, an
organization covered expenses by spending down every penny of a $1.5million
endowment. Every year, their board of high-powered business people approved a
budget that actually planned for income from bequests, as if they could predict
when their donors might die. When things finally came to a head, the
boards response was to ask the ED, Well what are you going to do
about this? It never occurred to them that THEY had been accountable for
the mess all along!
If the board doesnt
understand that it is ultimately accountable, and doesnt understand how
to put that accountability into practice, you are not ready to recruit.
|To learn what boards are accountable for, and to
If your board
micromanages, you are not ready to recruit. Some boards see micromanagement as
the road to accountability. Some see it as a detriment, but still cant
seem to stop. Either way, if your board is micromanaging, they are not ready to
Weve seen this: An organization had
come through a time of financial hardship. They had eliminated their debt and
were now operating from a position of fiscal strength. The board, however, was
still in hardship mode, scrutinizing every purchase, no matter how small. They
took 10 minutes at a board meeting to investigate why the staff
went to one store vs. another, where they could have saved (Im not
kidding) $20 on a $200 item. The staff knew that every move they made would be
second-guessed, and eventually they became immobilized. The board saw this as
further proof of the need for scrutiny, and that cycle eventually crippled the
Micromanagement is the
opposite of accountability. True accountability is proactive and preventative,
while micromanagement is reactive and fear-based. And recruitment will only
| For more information about
If you are hoping new
board members will finally fix whatever problems your board has been having,
you are not ready to recruit. From poor attendance to bickering and feuds, to
the countless other issues boards face, adding new board members never solves
those problems. It just brings more people into the morass, to endure and
potentially exacerbate those problems.
Weve seen this: Board members in a
rural area often drove for as much as an hour to get to board meetings, only to
find there was no quorum. Frustrated, they instituted policies for removing
board members who failed to attend meetings, only to lose those board members
entirely. The reason? Aside from reviewing reports, the board did virtually
nothing of significance for the organization. Once the board refocused its
purpose (and then refocused its meetings!), attendance was almost always 100%.
And new board members could be assured that board meetings wouldnt waste
Regardless of what issues
your board is dealing with, if you think recruitment will solve your
boards woes - you are not ready to recruit.
If your board has no
policy requiring board members to donate to the organization to the best of
their means, you are not ready to recruit. This is NOT a fundraising issue.
This is a living-by-example issue. If the board doesnt believe the
organization is worth investing in, why should a donor? How can we ask others
to give generously when we havent done so ourselves?
Weve seen this: Some of the board
seats of an organization serving low income families are reserved for
recipients of the service. As a condition of a large gift, a donor wanted to be
assured the board had all donated as well. When theclient board
members were asked, What amount could you give - even if its just
25¢? they all gave. One client wept as she handed over a $1 bill.
This is an honor. No one has ever asked me to participate in this way
before, she said. However, some of the non-client board members became
angry, saying they were never told they would have to donate their time AND
With a giving policy in
place, prospective board members will know what is expected of them BEFORE they
join the board, and before a donor puts them on the spot by asking, Has
all your board given to the organization?
|For a simple Board
Giving policy that works
|| Board / Staff
If the boards
relationship with the ED isnt great (ok, it stinks), or there are hard
feelings between the board and staff overall, you are not ready to recruit.
When this critical relationship is not working well, it is just plain dumb to
bring on new board members until you get to the heart of what is not working in
the existing relationship.
Weve seen this: An ED spent 20 years
growing an organization to a nationally recognized and widely copied model for
providing service. The board began attracting heavy-hitters, many of whom
joined for the status of affiliating with this group, but who felt little
passion for the mission. A rift was created between the board, who was mostly
concerned about the organizations finances (which were, by the way, in
great shape), and the staff, who were mostly concerned about meeting the
community need (for which they continued to maintain a stellar reputation).
After a few years of this battle, the ED retired early. It has now been 2
years, and the board is still arguing over what they are looking for in a
Problems between the staff
and the board are almost always symptoms of something larger - usually a lack
of understanding / focus on the organizations vision or its values
system. Until you have at least begun to address those deeper issues, you are
not ready to recruit.
|| CEO as
If your CEO is the one
doing most (or all) of your board recruitment, you are not ready to recruit.
Look at the organizational chart. Do you really want your CEO hand-picking
Weve seen this: A CEO did all the
recruiting. She also determined what would be on the boards agenda every
month, and provided the board with the information she felt they should have.
Not surprisingly, the board never did anything but rubber stamp what the CEO
suggested. In this organization, the board really thought they worked for the
If the CEO is your
boards main recruiter, then your board likely has far more problems than
you might suspect. You are definitely not ready to recruit.
If the organization
doesnt have a plans for how it will impact the community and plans for
how it will ensure it has the capacity to create that impact, you are not ready
to recruit. If you have plans, but the board has no clue about the status of
those plans, you are not ready to recruit. Your organization's plans are your
answer to the big questions - Why are we here? What are we trying to accomplish
for the community? If the board cant answer those basic questions, then
what exactly is the board doing?
Weve seen this: An organization was
required to have a strategic plan for accreditation. Every year they hired a
consultant, created a plan, and did nothing to implement it. When they called
to ask us to facilitate their next planning session, we told them we
couldnt do a plan unless we were assured the board would monitor its
implementation. And they had no idea what we meant.
If the board doesnt
understand that ensuring that the organization is making the community a
better place is one of their primary areas of accountability, the board
is not ready to recruit.
|| No Board
If you dont use your
bylaws and board policies to guide the boards work (do you even have
board policies?), you are not ready to recruit. Does the board have term
limits, or can someone be on the board forever? Is it clear what types of
actions could get someone thrown off the board, and what the process would be
for removing them? Without policies and procedures to guide board expectations,
you are not ready to recruit.
Weve seen this: A board president
called for advice: One of his board members had embezzled from their small
NonProfit, but the rest of the board wouldnt vote to remove him from the
board. After I picked myself off the floor, I asked if they had contacted the
police or an attorney, as this was a legal issue first, and only then a policy
issue. Yes, he said, he knew they needed an attorney, but right now he needed
to convince the rest of the board to remove this guy. Without a policy, the
rest of the board felt sorry for the embezzler and wouldnt vote to remove
him. So there he stayed, attending meetings and voting on organizational
matters, months after the discovery had been made! As extreme as it appears to
be, with no policies in place, the board was in a quandary about whether or not
to remove their friend.
If you are thinking this
couldnt happen to your board, you might be surprised at some of the bad
behavior we have witnessed from otherwise rational people - behavior that seems
to only show itself when they find themselves on a board. Without consistently
applied board policies and procedures, it is more likely that your own odd sets
of circumstances could knock your board (and your organization) for a loop.
|| No Board Training /
If the board has no
orientation program, and new board members get little more than their board
manual and perhaps a tour of the facility, you are not ready to recruit.
Without training, how will that new board member know what is expected of him?
And how will the organization be assured that their new board member is capable
of guiding the organization?
Weve seen this: We once gave a
long-standing board a quiz about their organization, with easy questions like
What is your annual budget? and Name 3 programs the
organization provides and Name one staff person aside from the
administrative staff, and tell what their position is. They all failed.
Many had been on the board for 20 years, and each and every one of them failed
the quiz. How could they govern if they didnt have such basic
If new board members will
not be well-enough informed about the organization from the moment they are
permitted to vote, you are not ready to recruit until you can teach them to do
the job. And if the organization cannot ensure that every single board member
understands how to read the financials (not just those on the finance
committee), so that every board member can be accountable for decisions that
require financial understanding (like approving the budget, approving new staff
positions, etc.), then you are not ready to recruit.
|Want to see how your own board members measure up?
Take our board quiz!
|| No Recruitment
Criteria or Process:
This will sound
ridiculously simple, but if you dont know what you are looking for in a
board member, or you dont know how to qualify prospects once you find
them, youre not ready to look! If you are willing to take anyone who is
willing to serve, you are not ready to recruit. And if your whole recruitment
process is to ask someone Will you serve?, and if they say
yes, theyre on the board - well you are nowhere near ready to
Weve seen this: "Warm blood and a
pulse." If only we had a nickel for every board who told us that is their
recruitment criteria. If prodded, they might offer that they are seeking
"business people" or "people with connections." On the other hand, when we ask
what criteria and processes they have in place for recruiting their janitor,
they rattle off a whole litany of qualifications and reference checks, etc. If
our boards are accountable for everything our organizations do, shouldn't we
have at least as good a process for "hiring" board members as we do for hiring
If your board doesnt
have a solid recruitment process that includes not only applications and
interviews, but first and foremost knowing what you are looking for,
then you are not ready to recruit.
|For an introduction to the recruitment process
So if we shouldnt recruit,
whats a board to do?
The answer sounds simple,
but it takes dedication and yes, it takes work. And that is to address the root
cause of whichever of these 10 items describes your organization. If it is the
lack of a solid board training program, develop one. If it is a lack of board
policies, work to create those policies.
If the problem is that the
board isnt functioning well, then perhaps they need to consider that the
only training theyve ever received for being a director on a
NonProfit board has been to sit on other boards, where they also likely
received no professional training. Maybe its time to train the folks who
are accountable for everything the organization does - no, not just accountable
for the money, but more importantly, accountable for making sure the community
is a better place because your organization exists. Does your board know how to
do that? Are they willing to concede that they may need to learn?
This approach may take a
lot more effort, but it works. On the flip side, recruiting when you
arent ready is like having a baby to try to save a bad marriage. At best,
your organizations problems will simply remain. At worst, the new
recruits will feed into whatever isnt working, as the organization
becomes more and more dysfunctional.
Organizations exist to make the community a better place to live. Our
communities are counting on us. We owe it to them to address our problems
head-on, and to become the very best we can be.
And once were on
that road, without a doubt, we will be ready to recruit new members to our