If you subscribe to the cold fact that in today's competitive world it is no longer acceptable to have a weak or ineffective board of directors, the first question one has to ask is: "How do we change the board to one that is effective?"
The obvious answer is to restructure the board's composition (the not-so-obvious answer is to correct the underlying problems that keeps the board ineffective). Recruit new, effective members and weed out ones who do not show at meetings, do not contribute, are not active in committee work, or do not serve as a public advocate. Enter the nominating committee.
Recruiting new members all-too-typically involves a two-hour discussion on possible candidates, most frequently only ones known to the committee or a few other board members. Then committee members ask the new member if he or she would mind joining the board.
At some point in the meeting, the committee member usually says apologetically that it shouldn't involve very much work or too much time. And, guess what? That's exactly how it ends up.
Contrast that with the advice that Michael C. Kieffer, chairman of Witt/Kieffer/Ford/Hadelman/Lloyd of Oak Brook, Ill., gives his clients. Speaking recently to trustees at a meeting of the Maryland Hospital Education Institute, Mr. Kieffer laid out a comprehensive approach to board member recruitment.
Mr. Kieffer, an executive search consultant, starts with the bottom-line basics. What are your organization's priorities? How does the board function as a group? These are not give-away questions. However, without first grappling with these tough issues, it is hard to find board members that can advance your organization's mission.
The next step, Mr. Kieffer advises, is for the nominating committee to develop a profile of all existing board members. This is no easy task. An effective way to handle this is to develop a table that lists each board member, age, sex, race, occupation and title, board committees on which they serve, and when the term of service expires. This alone provides a good overview of the board's composition.
The last two columns of the table, however, are even more critical. The nominating committee next candidly lists the strengths and weaknesses of the person. This is best done by each committee member alone, then discussed confidentially with all members.
The final column states how each board member can help achieve the organizational priorities that the board as a whole set at the start of this process. Now you have a comprehensive board profile, which indicates strengths, weaknesses and gaps in coverage.
Next, Mr. Kieffer and other recruitment experts advise, the committee needs to profile what they are realistically looking for in the ideal board member. Then, the list-making begins. Board member recruitment is a process of producing continuous lists of people for consideration. Board members should suggest names of nominees. Community leaders should suggest names. If you use a search firm, they will use a comprehensive process to come up with names.
With the list of candidates in hand, a review process begins during which information is gathered about each candidate. Are there conflicts of interest inherent in the potential board member's service? Is the candidate currently fighting off imminent bankruptcy proceedings?
Now, it is time to contact the candidates and begin the process of interviewing for the open board slots. For many boards, this process is an eye-opener. And, while the process may not be quite as stringent for small, community-based nonprofits, the essentials should be the same. A process such as this shows that the board is serious about its work. It is the surest way to change the culture of a board from passivity to proactive, policy-based stewardship.
Next week we'll examine the actual interview process for recruiting board members.
(Lester A. Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md., 21921;  392-3160.)