Board Recruitment

The Critical Dos and Don’ts of NFP Board Recruitment

Published: January 12, 2015

Read Time: 6 minutes

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We have all struggled with recruitment and we know that the smaller our organisation the greater our responsibility to get it right. We also know that many more people today are keen to find a board role so identifying the right candidate is even more challenging.

In my experience there are a couple of overarching principles that guide the appointment of directors:

  • First, candidate skills and experience must closely match the position requirements without compromise, as your board needs the best new director available.
  • Second, is the need to appraise carefully the candidates working style and likely ‘fit’ with the board team – will they work in a collegiate way and enhance board culture and discussions?

So how to approach this pivotal task with confidence and ensure it is both effective and successful? Here are a few ideas.

The Essential Dos

Be Prepared

Establish a board committee to oversight the process and take a long-range focus on succession over two to three years.

Undertake an annual board review and look at the terms of each board member and their retirement plans. Evaluate those contributing, asking useful questions, delivering for stakeholders in the boardroom and those underperforming who may need to be replaced.

Review and revise board selection criteria and position descriptions and use an open and transparent process to assess every potential candidate. This includes any known to the current directors. A board composed of ‘good mates’ may be seen as a clique, or less accountable and therefore less attractive to a new independent director.

Regularly review your board skill matrix and board charter to ensure you are ready to recruit. Don’t have them? Draft today!

Find the best candidates

Consider your strategic plan and the board skills and experience that will bring knowledge and value to board deliberation and assist in achieving your goals.

Prepare interview questions to enable you to appraise fit just as you do with a new employee and have key information at hand to inform them of the role.

Consider people already committed and involved with your cause, for example, those serving on committees, major supporters or key volunteers.

Undertake a search externally through NGO or company director advertising, women NED organisations, for candidates with required skill sets and interest in the cause.

Be honest with the candidates

Be open and direct about the opportunities the organisation is pursuing as well as the challenges facing the organisation. There is nothing worse than finding the organisation you were recruited to bears little similarity to the one you discover at the first board meeting.

Be clear on remuneration, if expenses are reimbursed, travel funding, funding of training courses and whether and how much directors are expected to donate. Will they be expected to visit field sites, speak to supporters, attend events and will these be at their own expense?

Consider each candidate as a potential donor or contributor, whether or not they are appointed. Every candidate is interested in the organisation and has connections, networks, an ability to give time and possibly money so ensure clear communication and follow up on discussions with sincere thanks if they do not progress to appointment

Always understand candidate motivations

Endeavour to understand motivations of candidates and their interest in your cause. Why do they want to join your board? What will they bring to the board? What would they like to get from board membership? Are they personally connected to the cause, involved in another organisation, looking for their first board role, or adding to a commercial portfolio of directorships?

Find out how long they plan to stay with you and their level of commitment – Several terms or only until other roles come along? Are they committed to attend meetings or will other obligations take priority? Are they simply looking for alignment with your brand until they get a better offer?

Be sure to check for values and culture alignment – how do they believe they will help deliver a positive and constructive board culture?

Always undertake formal reference checks and ideally informal references too. (Informal references usually confirm formal ones but sometimes they may avoid an issue)

The Absolute Don’ts

Don’t take shortcuts

Don’t forget to prepare!

Don’t delegate the task to the CEO – what they look for may differ significantly from that of a board.

Don’t try to rush or compromise on the quality of the candidate. You need the best person possible so ‘decide in haste and repent at leisure’ as they may be a board member for ten years.

Don’t limit the field of potential candidates

Don’t forget diversity – a board should reflect the composition of its stakeholders so consider women, other ethnic groups, youth, service recipients, volunteers, rural vs. metropolitan residents, disabled, and others depending on your organisation field of activity

Don’t be intimidated by current position, title, or appointments – ask anyway as it may just be the opportunity they are looking for and will value.

Don’t get sucked in by a good looking candidate

However, don’t be seduced by someone who is rich, popular or famous, as they may not have the team skills, interest or time required. Perhaps they can contribute more as an ambassador or patron.

Don’t forget to check for conflicts of interest . Candidates with close relationships to other board members, a supplier, major donor or those who already hold other directorships may find themselves in a position of conflict.

Don’t select a candidate on the basis of specific expertise if they have no interest in governance – they are unlikely to stay long or be able to contribute broadly – instead ask these candidates to contribute to a specific project or advisory group.

Don’t mislead

Don’t let potential candidates underestimate the complexity of an NFP board role. When compared to a corporate or commercial organisation, NFPs usually involve a higher level of compliance, more challenges in securing revenue, less access to capital and fewer staff with fewer skills and stakeholder expectations on performance are a lot higher.

Don’t expect a new board member to provide pro bono services and products – they may not have the time or inclination.

Don’t mislead candidates about the time required to do the role well. Ensure candidates can commit to attend meetings and manage the role with the attention it deserves. If time is an issue consider a committee or ambassador role instead.

Don’t raise expectations about appointment until everyone has been interviewed, reference checked and received final board sign off before letting a candidate know the outcome – things can change.

And one last vital step

Have a formal induction program ready when your candidate is selected to smooth their entry into the organisation. Prior to the first board meeting, get them fully briefed on the organisation, its market position and current plans.

Good luck with your recruitment!



Chris is a company director with over 14 years governance experience; currently serving as Chair of Habitat for Humanity Australia, Acting Chair of RESULTS International Australia, director of NSW Kids & Families, and director of Family Planning NSW. She is also a member of several audit & risk, governance and international advisory committees. Chris has worked as a director on a number of financial services, personal insurance and health insurance boards including CUA, CUA Health, and Credicorp Insurance. A keen interest in international aid and development has resulted in thirty-five years of volunteering and board roles including as Chair of the ACFID Code of Conduct Committee, receiving the inaugural ACFID Award for Outstanding Service to the Aid and Development Sector in 2006. Chris is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia.

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