Nonprofit governance

Building Breakthrough Boards - Step 2: Enroll

In this Nonprofit Strategy Report and several to follow,  we will deliver insight into our 5 Steps for Building Breakthrough Boards.  The 5 steps are:

Explore: Finding the right board candidates (August)
Enroll: Ensuring a good match (September)
Orient: Harnessing passion and commitment (October)
Engage: Leading fun and exciting meetings (November)
Evaluate: Understanding how to succeed and produce (December)

Step 2: Enroll        
How do you ask someone to be on your board of directors? How do you know that they will be a good match? How do you know if they will be engaged? These questions can paralyze many CEOs and boards, preventing them from making progress by effectively recruiting quality candidates to join their boards.

In step 1 of Building Breakthrough Boards, we learned how to identify new board candidates who can best support the organization’s strategy. In step 2, we are going to reach out and make the ask. Boards may start with 20-50 names of prospective candidates on a list, which requires a process to vet and enroll them. This process can be broken down into three steps:

  • Vet the candidates
  • Meet with candidates
  • Ask candidates

Before you can start holding meetings with potential candidates, you need to have two things in hand. The first is an informational packet about the organization, which should include a brief overview and a board member job description. Second, you will need a process for vetting candidates to make sure that they are a good strategic match and have a passion for the mission of the organization. The vetting process can include a tour of the operations, meeting other board members, and/or questions about the candidate that will help members to better understand the individual and the potential future relationship.

Once the board has agreed on how to vet candidates, it is time to schedule meetings with them. Ideally, if the board engaged in step 1 by exploring prospective candidates, there should be a large list of potential candidates who match the organization’s strategic direction. Every board member should be assigned a handful of candidates to invite to a personal meeting. This will be a challenge because not every candidate will want to invest time in learning about the organization. Those who agree to a meeting might assume that the purpose is fundraising, and they may be pleasantly surprised when the topic of joining the board is raised. The first meeting is an opportunity to get candidates excited about the organization and to learn about their interests and passions by using the vetting questions. 

The enrollment process can take time because it is about relationship building. If you are reaching out to savvy candidates, it may take more than one or two meetings to gain an agreement to join the board. Be patient, persistent and resilient. When you feel that the candidate is a good match and demonstrates interest and passion about the organization, ask him or her to join the board. The ask can be as simple as: “Our board feels that you would make an excellent board member and have the expertise to support the strategic direction we are moving in. Would you be interested in being part of our journey and joining our board?”

Recognize that the process of building a breakthrough board can be quite lengthy. It can take a full year or more to add 4 to 8 new, high-quality board members, depending on the level of participation from the board and CEO.

The enrollment process can begin today for any board of directors. As with step 1, all that you need is the commitment and urgency of the entire board.

In next month’s newsletter, we will provide insight into how to orient new board members once they have joined the board.

Building Breakthrough Boards - Step 1: Explore

The business models of nonprofit organizations are changing fast, however the board of director's level of governance to match this shifting landscape is far behind the curve.

In this Nonprofit Strategy Report and several to follow, we will deliver insight into our 5 Steps for Building Breakthrough Boards. The 5 steps are:

  1. Explore: Finding the right board candidates
  2. Enroll: Ensuring a good match 
  3. Orient: Harnessing passion and commitment 
  4. Engage: Leading fun and exciting meetings 
  5. Evaluate: Understanding how to succeed and produce 

Step 1: Explore        
One of a CEO’s most important responsibilities is to ensure a partnership with the board for the purpose of consistently strengthening and growing the board. To achieve this, the focus should be on constantly exploring potential board candidates who could serve as catalysts for moving beyond the existing status quo. The concept that “water seeks its own level” aptly defines the importance of building breakthrough boards. To achieve the next level of growth, impact, and success, you don’t just want people who can settle in at your current level and maintain what you’re doing now, but people who can go up a notch, raising past performance levels to new heights.

For example: If a CEO of an organization with a $10 million budget whose operations are spread regionally across several cities and towns wants to break through to higher levels, then that CEO would want to explore potential board candidates who have experience in leading companies with budgets of $20+ million and geographic footprints at a state level or greater. The reason for doing so is that, to achieve this breakthrough, the nonprofit will need leaders who are experienced with higher levels of productivity and organization. The ability to achieve higher levels of success will come from the advice, resources, social connections, financial ability, and previous experience of those candidates who have “been there, done that.”

The process may not be very complex, but it does require the board to commit to these three points:

  • The existing board must understand and accept the need to change and evolve, so that they are committed to and engaged in the process of change.
  • Board development must be a key area of focus of all board meeting agendas, with a dedicated governance or nominating committee leading the charge. This will ensure a consistent, organized, and disciplined approach.
  • The board should have a clear understanding of where the organization is and where it wants to go in terms of its size and scope. This is the single most important issue in building a breakthrough board. With this road map in hand, the experience and expertise of the new board candidates can raise the entire organization to new levels.

The exploration process can begin today for any board of directors. The only prerequisite is commitment and urgency from the entire board. Having a transformational strategic plan can help to guide board-building discussions, and a list of names can be generated using the future vision and direction contained in this plan as context. 

In next month’s newsletter, we will provide insight into how to enroll new board members once you have identified potential candidates.