Five Steps to Better Not-For-Profit Director Recruitment

I was recently interviewed by our friends over at AICD for an article on building not-for-profit boards. There were some tips and suggestions that I shared in that article for how NFP boards can build a great team around the board table. This information is also useful for board hopefuls as it gives them insight into how NFP boards approach director recruitment and how they can best work within that process to gain a board seat.

Today, in this post, I elaborate on the five steps to finding the right director for an NFP board shared in the AICD article.

1. Don’t dismiss personal networks but be prepared to look further afield.

Chances are, the existing board members know who and what is needed around the board table. Hopefully the board has had this discussion and agreed on what / who is needed around the table over the next 3-5 years. This places current board members in the prime position of matching that description with someone they already know and can easily co-opt on to the board. Unfortunately this default recruitment method can mean the board is filled with the same type of people all thinking the same thing. And may lead to the best person for the organisation not being appointed – or even getting a chance to apply in the first place.

It’s worthwhile to actively seek out other candidates who are not initially in yours or other board members’ networks or mental list of potential board members. Reaching further afield can yield great results for your board.

2. Create a position description

I’m a huge fan of position descriptions (PDs) for board members. They work to ensure expectations are clear on all sides – director, board, and organisation. They can also include the skills required, the duties and responsibilities that go with the role (for example, the code of conduct) and a realistic assessment of the time involved. The best PDs I’ve seen are also transparent about any extra commitments required from board members such as sitting on committees, raising funds and other hands-on involvement.

Consider using a committee to create the PD, and then get approval by the full board for the final version. That ensures everyone is on the same page, has had input into the type of person/people they want joining the team, and they are aware of the expectations everyone has of each other.

If PDs are new to your board, a good idea is to write one up for everyone and have them sign-on as a demonstration of commitment and acceptance of the rules of engagement. If you’ve had the conversations mentioned in point one above, then a detailed PD can easily be produced from that discussion.

Looking for a sample director PD? Here’s one I prepared for a previous board.

3. Post the position description on your website

The position description document should be published on your website when seeking out new board members. Sharing this information with board hopefuls ensures you receive applications that match what/who you’re looking for. If an aspiring board member doesn’t know what you’re looking for – and if you don’t know what you’re looking for – you will end up with unsuitable candidates applying for and filling your empty chairs.

Blending the PD with a clear description of the ideal board member (i.e. skills, expertise, experience, network, diversity profile, etc.) will place you in an optimal position to find the best candidates and can be used as a platform to determine who should join the board.

4. Share the information

The wonderful thing about having this information on your website, is that it makes it easier for you and others to share it via social media, email, and e-newsletters. This helps cast your net wider and reach potential candidates you don’t even know are out there.

Don’t stop there though. There are websites where you as a NFP can advertise your vacancy (for free). And, if you are ready to go to the next level, share this information with professional search organisations.

5. Be open to appointing a first-time director.

I’m a huge advocate for appointing first-timers on a board. We all have to start our board career somewhere, and it starts with more boards being open to appointing first-time directors. Taking a pragmatic approach, you don’t want a whole board full of newbies, but one or two isn’t going to disrupt things too much and may enhance the performance and outcomes of your board.

I disagree with the premise of disregarding board newbies because they may be using your board as a stepping-stone to larger, fee-paying board. Why is this a problem?! This person is going to put in a lot of commitment, energy, effort, brainpower, and time for no payment; and you’re annoyed that their ‘payment’ for this input is experience that they’re going to use to progress their board career.

So they should.

As I said in the article, “… it’s better to have had [a first-time board member] for a relatively short time than not at all.” Get the most out of them while you can and help them progress their career when they’re ready.


At the end of the day, if you build a pragmatic board recruitment approach and put in the effort you will be rewarded with great board candidates, and a highly effective board.

How does your board recruitment process look? What works well or where do you get stuck on the process?

Photo by Benjamin Atchley on Unsplash

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