By Eugene Fram, Professor Emeritus, Saunders College of Business, Rochester Institute of Technology
The traditional nonprofit board skills grid can still be helpful in the twenty-first century. However, it needs to incorporate lifestyle and behavioral information for each board candidate, and a consulting board needs to be considered for many with work-family challenges. Considering directors’ lifestyle and behavioral characteristics as well as their skills can open new approaches to seeking director candidates.
Over the last three years, I have conducted several nonprofit board recruitment projects. The boards with which I worked had rather similar challenges:
- They had concerns about recruiting sufficient numbers of qualified board members to fill their needs.
- Current board members, largely composed of people in the 30 to 40 age range, had significant problems balancing work and family obligations and attending board and committee meetings.
- Attendance was sporadic. Strategy discussions were continually sidelined or limited to development of SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) data. Although the boards were small, directors really did not know each other, and in one case an elected director sent a subordinate to attend board meetings.
- Although the organizations, with budgets between $2 million and $10 million, were operating successfully, the executive directors involved realized that they were in line for long-term problems if board recruiting didn’t change.
What to do
Establishing two boards, a board for governance and a consulting board, can help relieve these issues. Here are some tips to helping this process go smoothly:
- For the governance board, make certain the typical directors in the 30- to 40-year age range have a good understanding of their work-family obligations and will be able to devote sufficient time to the board obligations.
- For the consulting board, ask volunteers to work on projects that have a defined time limit. They will not be asked to be involved in more than one or two projects per year, an ideal inducement for millennials who are used to short bursts of activities. It may be necessary to recruit several people with the same skills to provide coverage for several projects.
- Members of the consulting board will only have occasional contact with the organization, but be sure to keep communications flowing to those board members just as you would to the governing board. If the organization has a volunteer manager, this person should be charged to keep the communications flowing.
- Overlay the traditional nonprofit skills grid with several time dimensions. This enables you to target diverse candidates, such as recently retired people, both those traditionally retired and those who retired early, who may have time to be candidates for both the governing and consulting boards; and individual contributors who may have more control of their time, such as doctors, lawyers, professors, small-business owners, and successful entrepreneurs
- Beyond the time requirement, seek people with experience on profit or nonprofit boards so they can share their board knowledge and become models for those having their first board experience. Their questions and modeling behaviors can teach as much or more than formal seminars. Also, consider having a mentoring system for continued education.
About the author:
During his 51 years at Rochester Institute of Technology, Dr. Eugene Fram taught thousands of undergraduate and graduate students; authored or coauthored more than 125 professional articles plus six books; and consulted with business/nonprofit organizations. He received three RIT awards for outstanding communications, teaching, and service to the University. Recently, an anonymous alumnus gifted RIT $3 million for the Eugene H. Fram Chair in Applied Critical Thinking. The third, 2011, edition of his nonprofit governance book is Policy vs. Paper Clips: How Using the Corporate Model Makes a Nonprofit Board More Efficient and Effective.