Selecting Qualified Candidates as Board Members is a Win-Win for Everyone

No matter whether you are voting for a leader for a federal office, city council or for a community organization, it can be daunting to select the right person for the job.  That’s especially true if you don’t know the candidates personally.  You lack first-hand knowledge about their skills, values, motivations and intelligence doesn’t provide you assurances that you’re selecting the best qualified individual.  

Choosing a new board member for your nonprofit association is equally daunting because you sometimes lack the same knowledge of the candidates.  Plus, nonprofit boards require a selfless person who is willing to give their expertise and time for no financial gain in most instances.    So, how can you ensure the candidates who have expressed interest in serving are a good fit for your board and for the organization? 

First, ensure you have an objective candidate evaluation system in place. There are a variety of processes, procedures and policies a board can initiate to promote a system of fairness and consistent direction for selection.  Let’s discuss a few items for consideration to act as a checklist for your organization.

  • Review your organization’s bylaws.  This is the official document that governs your nonprofit’s existence and was first developed when your organization was chartered.  It covers the organization’s purpose, how it conducts business, the governing process, and board members terms, duties, etc. in general terms.  It should also have basic requirements for board members (i.e., dues paying members only).
  • Board policies. It’s always in the best interest of the organization to adopt policies addressing tenure, personal conduct, term limits and other issues credentials to ensure all board members are treated equitably and consistently.
  • Determine board member qualifications. Some organizations have a job description for board members.  Oftentimes, this document does not agree with current practice unfortunately, so it’s good practice to update the bylaws and create a board member job description to concur with what is appropriate for today’s business environment and the organization.  The board member qualifications written in the bylaws are, in many instances, intentionally vague because the bylaws usually require a more rigorous process to change.  So, job descriptions can be more easily changed with the times and be updated depending on the current needs of the organization. 
  • Conduct a Call for Board Nominations.  Open the nominations process up to all qualified members and provide an elections packet to those interested.   The packet would include an overview of the process, timeline and deadlines, bylaws, board job description, fiduciary responsibilities and a board candidate application for submittal.  All can be provided via email to control costs and can include a fill-in submittal form. This is a fair way to give all members an opportunity to serve and to express the reasons for wanting to serve plus, the contributions that he/she could make. Plus, it gives you an amazing opportunity to discover new, talented leaders among your membership!
  • Develop a board application.  The application contains basic information, such as current employment, education, work and volunteer experience, and a few questions about what the candidate can contribute and why they wish to be considered. Two pages should be adequate.  (Hint:  If a candidate won’t go through the process of completing the application, then it’s a likely signal of the amount of work he/she is willing to put into being an actual board member.)
  • Select respected members to serve on a nominating committee.  This committee, consisting of mostly non-board members, does the heavy lifting during the nominating process.  The non-board members are valuable resources because of their work, industry or business experience; not just volunteer experience.  They interview the candidates, check references (if needed), and make a recommendation to the board of the most qualified candidates to be placed on the election ballot. The Board always retains the final authority to approve the names to be placed on the ballot.
  • Conduct personal interviews.  Following a review of the candidate applications, the Nominating Committee should set up a personal interview (via phone is sufficient), with each qualified board candidate.  I suggest developing a standard set of questions to ask candidates to compare apples to apples responses.  If there are numerous candidates, a rating system will enable a fairer comparison. The personal interviews also reflect well on the organization as it emphasizes the seriousness of this decision and your respect for the candidates. 
  • Respect the candidates’ interest and time.  Communicate with the candidates throughout the process with progress reports.  They may not succeed through the process this year, but they could be excellent candidates in a future year.  So, keep the process professional recognizing that they are still a member and supporter of the organization. Next year may be their year!

One final and important note:  This process should be conducted with the utmost confidentiality and respect for the candidates involved.  Some candidates will most likely not be selected to go past the first step in the nominations process or they may be defeated if they are placed on the ballot.     It’s also their reputation at stake with their employer, their co-workers, their clients and their families.  So, respect the process you establish and always stay on good terms with the members.  The goal is for this experience to be a win-win outcome for all involved.   It’s the democratic process at work!