October 16, 2019


Richard Stringham

Recruiting Better Board Members

Don’t be Satisfied with Just “Warm Bodies” for Board Positions

On behalf of your organization’s ownership, your board determines what will demonstrate success for the organization. Furthermore, the “buck” truly stops at the board as there is no higher authority in the organization. Therefore, the board must do all it can to ensure that it has the people best suited for the job. 

Years ago, I learned that recruiting people for volunteer positions revolves around an approach that focuses on the needs of the job. It requires knowing what attributes you are looking for, identifying those who have the desired attributes, and asking each to volunteer by letting her know that you have identified her as a candidate with those attributes. 

Step 1: Identify the desired attributes. I once worked with a board which had experienced some challenges with a recent recruit to the board. As it happened, the new board member was expecting to provide management expertise. He was upset when the board resisted, as it had a discipline of governance, not management. But when looking at the attributes sought in candidates, it was apparent that there was a disconnect between the board’s job of governing and what the board sought in candidates.  

In this case, they were seeking management skills as if the board’s job was “management one step up.” But the board was using Policy Governance, which emphasizes  that governance is a discipline distinct from management. 

Beware the online advice regarding needed board attributes and ensure that the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that you seek are those needed to govern, rather than to manage or help management. We have an excellent tool for that purpose.  

Step 2: Identify potential candidates based upon the attributes you seek. Start with what you are seeking rather than just people you know. Not sure who in the community might have those attributes? Use your networks. Be clear about what you seek and ask who might have those attributes.  

You might also interview potential candidates to determine how well they align with your criteria. We have another excellent tool for that as well. 

Step 3: Approach the preferred candidate(s). Tell them specifically how you recognize their attributes and how those attributes are important for your board. Rather than: “We need someone for the board and we think that you would be good,” people will respond much better to: “We are seeking people who are big picture thinkers. We’ve heard about your work on the library development project and people involved indicated that you were known to take a step back and explore the broader context when most others were engaged in details.”  

Also be clear on both the benefits and the investment required, especially time. “It doesn’t take much time at all,” is a signal that the potential candidate should run for the hills! Much better is: “Board members find that it takes between 10 and 15 hours a month, including board meetings, which are the second Tuesday evening of each month.”  

As Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the scouting movement, put it: “Try and leave this world a little better than you found it…” Recruiting the best candidates is an essential part of the legacy you can leave for your organization and the difference it will make in the world. 



Virtual Workshops for Individuals

Assessing Monitoring Reports

Course Orientation February 28 with live sessions March 13 and March 27

Introduction to Policy Governance®

Course Orientation March 6 with live sessions March 20 and April 10

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