A trending board topic of late is the appointment of corporate members to non profit boards.
The advice from those supposedly in the know is to professionalise your non profit board by recruiting from the corporate sector. Interestingly enough, with the latest revelations from ASIC, and the banking royal commission some might say, this should be taken cautiously.
All generalisations aside, I always caution non profits about over-corporatising their boards. Don’t get me wrong, there are many benefits in bringing in corporate knowledge and non profits need to be more commercially savvy in today’s markets, however you should be looking holistically at board membership that is based on logic overlayed with the need and purpose of the organisation.
Beware the resume hunters and hopeless romantics
Non profit governance is not a hobby and the role can be onerous with work outside meetings usually greater than the hours spent in meetings themselves.
Problems arise when you have individuals on the board who think that participation in a meeting every two month where they sprout some words of wisdom and tell their friends at dinner parties how they are saving the world is all that’s required.
The danger for the Chair is that having members who don’t attend meetings or participate in committees and fail to complete work between meetings can put undue pressure on effectiveness and the doers of the board. This can lead to resentment and fatigue.
There can also be a disconnect if board members aren’t passionate or connected to the cause or organisation and have an overly commercial take on every decision that needs to be made. I have often seen this drain the empathy and client focus from organisations.
You need to build a balanced productive board
Be clear on who you need to attract or approach. Your vision and strategic plan should tell you a lot about who you need to recruit. Utilising a skills matrix based on today and tomorrow’s needs will inform you of skills gaps and future requirements. This should be discussed openly with the organisation, benefactors or other influential stakeholders.
Think about tangible skills and intangible assets. Recruiting a lawyer, accountant or captain of industry can bring invaluable insights to the board and build organisational capability. Looking beyond mums and dads doing the books and marketing is almost a given these days if your non profit is to grow.
Having an influencer, connector or benefactor on the board can also bring exponential benefits greater than their time sitting at the board table. For those organisations that rely on volunteers, donations or funding for research, a celebrity or well-connected individual can make a huge difference to success and growth. You might seek out television or sports stars, corporate champions, politicians and wealthy philanthropists to boost your ranks.
Be aware though that these individuals may be extremely busy and 'face time' with the organisation might be slim. This is where you have to be clear on the role they play, and you may think about having them as advisors or spokespersons rather than board members.
Be mindful though that some philanthropists like to have a finger on the pulse to ensure their donations are being used appropriately.
There is always the option of using keen volunteers to advise committees or assist the organisation in areas that align to their area of expertise. This can also give you and them a chance of testing each other out before they take on a board position.
With any potential candidate you should be always thinking of cultural fit, passion and ability to contribute.
Be clear about roles and expectations
Documenting roles and responsibilities or expectations at the beginning can alleviate a lot of heartache later on. A good board will have an induction pack that outlines all the expectations around participation, meeting times and behaviour. It should also include mission and vision and strategic intent to ensure new board members can align themselves early on in the engagement.
Board rotation clauses in constitutions and policies can be powerful tools to ensure there is a renewal process both to bring new people onto the board, and also as a diplomatic process of moving on non performing directors.
My advice is always be intentional with board recruitment, link it with the values and core purpose, and don’t fall into the trap of recruiting in haste with stars in your eyes or because you need bums on seats. Quality and contrubution over quantity is always a better option.