Signe Holstein, CAE
High-performing Boards don’t just happen—they are a product of planning and hard work. Building a strong and effective Board requires an articulated process that is part of the annual planning cycle with regular review of desired outcomes and effectiveness. Appointing a Nominating Committee of a few Board members a few months before the annual meeting will do little to create the type of Board that will move the association forward to best serve its members and stakeholders. Developing a pool of qualified and committed leaders is an important component of strategic leadership and requires the Board’s attention on an ongoing basis.
The processes that need to be in place include the following:
• Identifying the skills, attributes, and knowledge (competencies) required at the Board level
• Having a clear strategy for the recruitment of volunteers at all levels of the association, including the Board
• Having an orientation program for Board members and volunteers
• Having evaluation processes for the Board and volunteer activities
• Having Board development activities and leadership development activities for volunteers
While in this chapter we refer specifically to the Board of Directors, the concepts and practices apply equally to association committees and other components of the association where volunteers are involved.
Increasingly, attention is paid to identifying core competencies for not-for-profit Boards. More than ever before, association members and the public are holding Boards accountable for their actions. Thus, there is a need to ensure that Board members not only understand their responsibilities and have the skills required to carry them out, but can demonstrate that they do.
Competencies are clusters of related knowledge, skills, and attitudes that affect how one performs specific job tasks. Competence, as a Board member, is the ability to exercise the right actions at the right time, in a manner expected by the association or its members. Competencies correlate with performance and can be measured and improved through training and development.
Competency frameworks, while they will have common elements, vary from one association to the next depending on the Board’s, its size, budget, and the elements of the Board job description.
The competency framework can be used for the following:
• Help recruit for the Board and key leadership positions
• Part of Board orientation
• Part of a Board evaluation tool or process
• To identify areas for Board development and training
• To evaluate the effectiveness of Board orientation and training
Developing a competency framework for the Board should begin with an in-depth conversation at the Board table. It requires discussing the key strategic initiatives, governance style, challenges, and resources to ultimately reach consensus on the competencies and makeup of the ideal Board for the association. If the association has the resources, working with a consultant to structure a Board development session is prudent. Alternatively, the Nominations Committee or Board Development (or Governance) Committee can take the lead.
The competency framework guides the Board’s recruitment, development, and evaluation activities. The end product defines the dimensions in which Board members need to be competent, and the competency behaviours within those dimensions. Improved recruitment and associational effectiveness are the end result.
There are a number of areas or dimensions of competency to consider:
• Environmental scanning
• Strategic thinking and planning
• Policy formulation
• Oversight and ethics
• Communication, advocacy, and public relations
• Risk management
• Overall Board performance
Within each of these dimensions it is possible to define the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviours expected of Board members. Individual Board members will not be skilled in all areas—the goal is that the Board composition reflects the competencies identified.
Competency Statement Examples
Explores and assesses trends and issues affecting the future of the profession or association.
Strategic Thinking and Planning
Shows an appreciation for the association’s mission and strategic plan and is able to evaluate and provide insight into strategic direction.
Oversight and Ethics
Demonstrates sufficient knowledge of financial matters to judge financial indicators of the association’s performance and demonstrates a high standard of personal values and ethics.
Understands the importance of solidarity in Board decisions, even though the Director may not agree with the decision taken; respects the confidentiality of the association’s business information and the deliberations of the Board. Acts as an advocate for the association and the profession.
Demonstrates an ability to identify the costs, benefits, and risks of Board decisions; able to assess the association’s capacity to implement its strategy.
Works effectively with other Board members, the CSO, and other stakeholders.
Overall Board Performance
Shows diligent preparation for meetings (is prepared, knows material, and actively participates).
Developing a competency framework, or defining the competencies for Board members is only the first step. Communication is key; explaining the framework to Board members, potential Board members and key volunteer leaders and its role in enhancing Board and association performance is part of the Board’s recruitment and leadership development activity.
The competency framework becomes part of the Board and volunteer orientation process and is integrated into evaluation processes. Identifying key competencies allows the association to create leadership and Board development programs that enhance association effectiveness and allow members to build or enhance their skills.
Recruiting and Retaining Board Members
Historically, Board member recruitment was a task that fell to a Nominations Committee, established annually, usually composed of senior Board members. More recently, with increased emphasis on Board accountability and development, we are seeing the emergence of committees with a broader mandate than establishing a slate of nominees. The committee names may vary (e.g., Governance, Board Development, Leadership Development, or Nominations).
The expanded role may be responsible for the following:
• Marketing volunteer opportunities to potential candidates and volunteers, and communicating how they might become involved.
• Ensuring the nomination process is current and appropriate, and that process is used to identify candidates for positions.
• Maintaining a volunteer database of potential candidates and individuals who can be mentored or involved with a view to future leadership positions.
• Preparing and training future leaders, via new Board member orientation, leadership development, and mentoring.
• Assessing leadership development activities, including Board evaluation, efficacy of existing programs, and so on.
• Recommending and organizing Board development opportunities based on the results of Board evaluations.
This trend recognizes the need not only to find individuals who wish to serve on the Board, but the need to identify and train potential leaders and to provide opportunities for those individuals to gain or enhance their governance capacity.
Prior to recruiting Board members, developing a skills matrix—outlining the skills and experience of current Board members and identifying gaps or weak areas—will help develop a profile for new Board members. Some additional factors that Boards may look for include:
• Proven interest in the association
• Other leadership positions within the association
• Geographical, constituent, and/or gender balance
• Balance of experienced and new Board members
• Age profile that is consistent with that of the association
• Experience on another association’s Board
Key Questions for Effective Volunteer Recruitment
• Is there a job description for a Board member that clearly outlines responsibilities?
• Is there material available that clearly outlines the anticipated time commitment (e.g., for meetings, preparation, other expectations of Board members)?
• Do you have a profile of the ideal Board member(s) that you wish to recruit?
• Is there a roster or file with members’ names, who might have the skills sets required and an interest in serving on the Board?
• Is there similar information for recruiting volunteers for other positions?
There are a number of mechanisms that can be used to recruit new Board members. If you developed a database of potential leaders or those who expressed interest in the past, you have a source of potential nominees. There are a number of other opportunities for recruitment:
• Publish an expression-of-interest in a newsletter and send it out to key volunteers.
• Provide a “volunteer opportunities” section on membership application or renewal forms where members can identify areas that are of interest.
• Provide information on the positions available and supporting statements from volunteers who are already involved.
• Speak with Board members, committee chairs and other leaders within the association—they can help you identify new talent.
• Review rosters from any leadership development activities hosted by the association over the past few years.
• Review membership of association committees or regional groups.
• Speak with previous Board members.
• Ask Board and committee members to speak at members meetings.
The personal approach, by a committee or Board member, is the most effective. The individual will feel valued and be afforded an opportunity to ask questions about the roles, responsibilities, and time commitment required of Board members. Encouragement from a volunteer they respect often results in a request to serve being given serious consideration. If a candidate is unable to make a commitment when initially approached, he may indicate a willingness to consider nomination in the future and his name can be added to the database for future years.
About the Author
Signe Holstein, CAE, has 25 years of experience in association management with the Ontario Physiotherapy Association, Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators, and the Appraisal Institute of Canada –Ontario. As a member of the Board of Directors of the Unionville Home Society, a not-for-profit association providing seniors’ housing and services, she chaired the Governance Committee at a time of associational change and renewal. She has an abiding interest in Board development and maximizing leadership potential in the volunteer community.