Four Important Lessons from a Nonprofit Board Nomination Process
My term on the board of a national nonprofit professional association recently came to an end after more than 5 years—including a year as the chair of the board, and a year as immediate past board chair.
Per the by-laws, the immediate past board chair leads the nominations process for incoming board members. That process concluded in late spring and I have to admit that I learned some lessons along the way. I hope this blog post helps someone who may someday face the same issues that I faced.
Lesson #1. It might be obvious, but: get on it early.
Our by-laws stipulated the precise make-up of the nominations committee: a total of seven people. What was evident immediately is that coordinating the schedules of seven people plus an executive director—even for a phone call—is very difficult. This process will take longer than you think, regardless of how well organized you are.
Lesson #2. Talk with the full board about both the current and future composition of the board.
A month before the nominations process began, I asked the board chair for 20 minutes on a board agenda to discuss the board composition. In advance of that discussion, I sent an email to each member of the board asking them to answer 10 demographic questions, including their responsibilities (job titles can be misleading!) and “any skill sets we may not be aware of.” When we met, I presented this information (and it included a few surprises) and we were able to have an informed conversation about what was missing from the table and what we wanted on the board.
Lesson #3. Make nominees come with a recommendation of a current board member.
When I heard from the executive director a week before the nominations were due that we only had two people self-nominate for the five open seats, I knew we had a problem. Our mistake was not getting the board more involved with finding future board members, and in the end, it was left up to the executive director. It would obviously have been better if every board member was required to bring forward at least one nominee and be a champion for that person. I have no doubt that this would undoubtedly create a higher quality board in the long run, too.
Lesson #4. Make the incoming board chair (not the past board chair) lead the nominations process.
Finally, although I worked diligently on the process, the new board members came on after I was no longer on the board. I don’t know if the people that ended up on the board are as good as I think they are. To me, putting the vice chair of the board in charge of the nominating process makes a lot more sense, because he or she will be working with these people when they are handed the gavel.
Ryan Johnson, Today: Husband, father of two girls, runner, reader. Ten years ago: health care dot-com consultant. Fifteen years ago: ASU Morrison Institute. Twenty years ago: Congressional staffer.