Every board of directors I know has a nominating committee In most cases, each year the committee is activated maybe a few months before the annual meeting. The committee dutifully reviews the list of outgoing board members and suggests a list of replacements.
Of course, between reviewing the list of departees and suggesting new names, the board may research gaps in board coverage, or interview other board members for recommendations on additions to the board.
At the annual meeting, the slate of candidates is perfunctorily approved, usually with no discussion. The nominating committee, having done its work, retires for another year. If this scenario describes the work of your nominating committee, watch out. Your nonprofit organization is about to be knocked over by the wave of the future.
In policy-making boards of strong nonprofits, the nominating committee is the most important committee of the board. In fact, in many places what used to be called the nominating committee is now called the committee of the board, signaling its pivotal position.
What does the nominating committee do to warrant its central role? In nominating new members, it actually shapes the future board. At nominating time, a committee can choose to perpetuate the old or suggest new choices to push the board in a new direction.
In addition to its nominating role, the nominating committee has two other functions. First, it reviews the past performance of existing board members. Second, it coordinates the orientation of new members. Here's a look at each of these roles.
To accommodate its new role (although strong nonprofits have been doing this for years), the nominating committee should be a year-round work group. Let's say a new board member is nominated for an initial three-year term. The nominating committee is responsible for assigning the new member an experienced board mentor, preferably creating a match that meets the needs of both individuals.
Next, the nominating committee should be sure that the new member has a board orientation manual and is scheduled for orientation. A member of the committee should regularly check in with the new recruit to chart his or her progress during the first year.
At the end of the first year, a committee representative should meet with the volunteer for a debriefing. Was the new member's service as expected? What were the surprises, both good and bad? Does the new member feel he or she is making a contribution to the mission of the organization?
This evaluation session is a two-way street. The committee, having previously met to discuss the new member's service, should provide feedback to the volunteer.
By the end of the second year of service, the nominating committee should have a better idea of the member's strengths and weaknesses. This is a good time to meet again with the individual volunteer, to praise strengths and identify weaknesses that should be addressed. By the time the three-year appointment is up, the nominating committee will know whether to renominate that volunteer for another three years.
The same evaluation process holds true for more experienced board members. If an experienced member begins to lose effectiveness, it is the nominating committee's job to recommend asking the person to make way for a new candidate, perhaps moving the experienced volunteer to an honorary board.
Of course, all of these nominating committee tasks need to be handled assertively, yet tactfully. Cast in this new light, serving on the nominating committee is no easy job.
(Lester A. Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md., 21921;  392-3160.)