In the past two weeks, we've examined the role of the nominating committee in recruiting and evaluating board members. What role does the interview process play in the nomination process?
As we've seen, the selection process itself is no easy task, requiring some painful soul-searching on the part of the committee. But the alternatives are a good deal worse -- an ineffective board, whose inaction compromises the potential of the organization.
In keeping with the board's new thrust to revitalize itself, the nominating committee has by now whittled down the original list of 100 or so names to perhaps one or two dozen for the three slots available. It is at this point that the interview process begins in earnest.
Again, the nominating committee needs to make use of the board member profile which was previously drafted. Where information is lacking about particular candidates, committee members typically call the candidate to fill in the gaps. After explaining that their names have been suggested for candidacy to the board, some will eliminate themselves from consideration, thereby narrowing the field even further.
By now there are perhaps 10 or 12 candidates available. The committee faces a choice. Either use a consulting firm to interview the candidates, or do it themselves. While an objective analysis is usually best, smaller nonprofits may opt for doing their own interviewing strictly on financial grounds.
Let's take the real-life case of Maryland General Hospital, which used a search firm to help the board develop its "ideal board member" profile.
"Since the search firm had helped us develop the profile, and had worked with us throughout the process, they had a good feel for whether the candidates would be the right quality, the right chemistry, for our board," says CEO and board Chairman James Wood.
In this scenario, the search firm would conduct in-depth interviews and make recommendations to the committee.
Using an exclusively internal process, the nominating committee would select a small team of two or three members to conduct all the interviews, so that there was consistency in approach.
At this point, the senior staff officer would ask the finalists in for a tour of the facility and a provide them with a packet of materials describing the agency's programs. CEO Wood, for instance, put together a comprehensive manual for finalists.
TH A visit also allows finalists to ask additional questions and to get
a feel for the organization. It gives the CEO a chance to tell these prospective board members his or her perceptions of the issues the board faces.
Once this segment is completed, the finalists are ready for the face-to-face interview with the entire nominating committee. It is here that all details are resolved. Again, Maryland General's procedure serves as a good example. The committee, consultants and CEO pooled their expertise to generate a list of generic issues and specific questions that would ensure that nominees and members were on the same wave length.
Prospective board members should be clear about the board's role in relation to policy and management. They should be comfortable working as part of a team. They must recognize and accept the fact that board work is a commitment of time, money and energy. And, as a foundation underlying all these issues, is a commitment to avoid conflicts of interest and unethical behavior.
One piece of advice that I give to nominating committees is to never apologize for the fact that board work is hard work. Give candidates a realistic expectation of what the job involves.
Is going through such a development process worth the time and effort? "Absolutely," says Mr. Wood. "This has formalized the process of becoming a board member. We now have very good nominees and appointments. Everyone takes their roles and responsibilities more seriously now."
My experience is that boards that have made the commitment to strive for excellence for the organizations they represent attach great importance to the nominating process. This yearlong process starts with identifying candidates and continues with nominating a slate for the board's approval. It continues further with an ongoing evaluation program for existing board members.
One thing's for sure. The nominating committee's work never ends.
James Wood is willing to share with readers a detailed report of Maryland General Hospital's nominating process. Call his office at (410) 225-8000.
(Lester A. Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md., 21921;  392-3160.)