Board members serve an important role in ensuring that their successors are well equipped to lead the organization. They can fulfill this role by articulating the board’s job description, identifying the skill sets required by board members, identifying individuals that have the potential to be effective, and sharing key information with those who select board members so they can make wise decisions.
It is important for the board to put its responsibilities, and the responsibilities of individual board members, in writing so that current and future board members know what is expected of them. The board’s role may include annual strategic planning; hiring the CEO and providing annual performance feedback; financial oversight; and maintaining relevant governing policies. The board members’ responsibilities might include attendance at at least 80% of meetings; understanding the contents of pre-meeting background packages before arriving at board meetings; and representing the organization at at least four community events per year.
Once the expectations of the board and its members are clear, a list of criteria that are required by all board members and a list of criteria that some board members must have can be prepared. For example, all board members must be available for a full-day meeting on the second Tuesday of every month; be prepared to represent the organization by attending and speaking at one community event per quarter; and be competent in email use to communicate effectively with the organization and fellow directors. Some board members must have financial expertise, some must have a high level of understanding of the industry, and there must be diversity of background and perspectives among board members.
Now that the expectations and qualifications of board members are identified, current board members can be keeping their eyes open for people who could serve well in the future! There are likely individuals who volunteer for the non-profit or who work in the industry who could serve with excellence. Board members can plant a seed in their minds by asking if they would be interested in learning about what is involved in being a board member. A board member could provide the nominating committee with names of individuals that she thinks have promise so nominating committee members could explore their qualifications and interest. The organization can require that all board member nominations be submitted to the nominating committee one month before elections so there is time to interview the prospective candidates. Some organizations only put names of individuals who meet all of the stated qualifications on the ballot. This allows the owners to select board members from a group of qualified individuals. When the bar is raised, performance generally increases to meet the higher level of expectations. More qualified individuals are likely to be open to serving on the board.
When the board chooses to be proactive in board member selection, the organization and its owners benefit from governance excellence. In turn, the board fulfills its primary responsibility of serving the owners’ interests.