Agony Uncle: Where do we start with recruiting new board members?

Borthwick Chris Jul2019lg

In this help sheet series, Our Community’s resident agony uncle, Chris Borthwick, offers answers to frequently asked questions about issues not-for-profits are facing.


Dear Agony Uncle,

I’m the manager of a long-running arts organisation. We’re going through the process of planning for board succession, as a few members (including the chair) are departing. I plan on advertising the vacancies, and the current board has asked me to seek guidance on what may be appropriate or inappropriate when doing so. Maybe you can help here?

Agony Uncle’s answer

Well, the first issue you run across is that there is an irremovable tension between efficiency and democracy. In theory, the organisation is the servant of the General Meeting, and has to accept whoever it votes in. In practice, the board’s ticket generally gets up; but you have to listen to the members, nonetheless, and there are customs and expectations that have to be negotiated. Still, you can’t promise anyone a sure thing; there has to be a vote.

Once you’ve got past that and are drawing up your wish list, there’s a balance to be struck between professional skills on the one hand and youth, social media skills, diversity, and closeness to the grass roots on the other. There are no hard and fast rules here other than that you shouldn’t have hard and fast rules.

One good rule, of course, comes from an arborist I called in to look at my trees. She had a poke around and told me, “Actually, my advice is ‘Call me in 10 years ago.’” It’s best, that is, to lead your new board members on by means of membership of subcommittees and ad hoc committees and volunteering, so that both ends of the deal can see if this is what they want. It sounds as though it’s a little late for that now, though.

Our Community does have its own board matching service – well worth checking out. https://www.ourcommunity.com.au/icda/board/search/

And there’s a book on the subject too – https://communitydirectors.com.au/books/revitalise-your-community-board.

Best wishes,

Agony Uncle.

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