Your Board’s Most Important Subcommittee? The Answer May Surprise You

Is your board the weak link in your organization’s chain? Do you dread preparing for and going to board meetings? Are there people on your board who are placing a personal agenda above the good of the organization?

By Nikki Rach, Winkler Group Senior Vice President

While there are no silver bullets to fix a weak board, having a high-functioning nominating committee could be the first step to resolving some of your board struggles. 

When I first joined the board of a community service organization, the board had rolling admission; no one was quite sure what they were supposed to do and for how long. While facility relocation and a capital campaign loomed in the near future, board meetings lacked focus. We were rudderless and unsure of exactly how much responsibility fell on our shoulders for the sustainability and viability of the organization. Once we took an intentional approach and began to put a process around our nominating committee, we saw professionalism increase and financial support grow; as a board, we finally found the courage to take bold steps forward.

A Nonprofit Board Nominating Committee Is Underrated, but Critical

The nominating committee, also called a governance committee, is often the most underrated committee in the board structure.

A nominating committee is not flashy. It does most of its work behind the scenes. But a well-staffed and intentional nominating committee will strengthen the board—and the organization, by extension—year by year. First, the committee gives form and structure to the process of strengthening the board. By reviewing current board member metrics, the nominating committee can determine what skills, professions, demographics, and socio-economic representations are needed to strengthen the board.

Second, having an established process to nominate new board members that includes an application and interview process edifies the volunteer and exemplifies the professionalism of board membership. A methodical nominating committee also explains the expectations of board membership and leads to the new members who contribute to the organization from the outset.

Strategies to Strengthen the Nominating Committee

Given the value a high-functioning nominating committee can add, let’s discuss how you can strengthen your board’s nominating committee.

  1. Begin with a review of the bylaws to determine who should lead the efforts and staff the committee. If leadership is not named in an organization’s founding documents, often the board vice-chair takes this role.
  2. Establish a regular cycle for the review of existing members and identification of traits, skills, and professions needed in new members. This process should be undertaken at least once per year.
  3. When looking for new prospective board members, start with your list of major donors to see if any of them meet the current needs of the board. If this doesn’t produce a match, review lower levels of donors and those who have given in prior years. By starting with current donors, you overcome the 100% board giving hurdle.
  4. Once names are identified, the committee determines the best person to invite each board candidate to serve.
  5. During the invitation process, make sure to provide a job description that outlines specific expectations of board membership.
  6. Ask the candidate to complete an application and have the nominating committee interview all of the applicants.
  7. Once the class of new and returning board members is selected, the board votes to approve the class of new members.
  8. Host an orientation prior to the first board meeting. This will allow you to introduce the committee structures, meeting schedules, and a calendar of events where board participation is expected.

Please do not have a board candidate attend a board meeting prior to being approved to serve on the board. Attendance prior to joining serves no real function and creates potential challenges. Since they are already donors to the organization, they are familiar with your mission. And the interview and orientation process will inform them of the norms and functioning of the board.

Nominate Donors as Board Members

As a nonprofit fundraising consultant, I always recommend that new board members should already be donors.

By starting with your donor database, you begin with people who have already demonstrated an interest in your cause. They are raising their hand to say I care about what you are doing! Your major donors are likely successful in their professional careers and will be able to bring expertise to the board. Lastly, there is a demonstrated direct correlation between volunteerism and increasing generosity to an organization. By engaging a donor in the decision-making process and in the organization’s future vision, you will inspire higher levels of support from them.

If you work the process described above to intentionally build a stronger board through a nominating committee, you will find that board meetings are a highlight of your work and board members are trusted confidants who help you increase your community impact. An effective nominating committee unlocks the door to better governance—and higher levels of philanthropic investment!

You May Also Like: The Board Preparedness Worksheet

Is your board ready for a capital campaign?

We wear many hats as fundraisers. But we must remember that our biggest role is to develop relationships—among our board members as well as our donors. If left unattended, a dysfunctional board can derail a campaign before it begins. 

With one of the Winkler Group’s newest resources, The Board Preparedness Worksheet, you can rate your board on core competencies like roles and responsibilities, spheres of influence, personal investment, and campaign planning—and learn how to increase their functionality 

Board-Preparedness-Worksheet-Website-Form-1

If your board is not where it could be, this worksheet will help identify the gaps and where more work needs to be done. With coaching and intentionality, most boards can become well-oiled governing bodies that lend support and influence to successfully execute a campaign. 

About the Author

Nikki Rach is Senior Vice President of the Winkler Group; with more than 30 years of fundraising experience, she has served as a nonprofit executive director and chief development officer. She specializes in board training and development as well as capital campaign management. Connect with Nikki on LinkedIn.

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