[From Tanya Stevens, Principal Consultant & Head of the Not-For-Profit Practice at Society]

In the wake of COVID-19, engaged, functional trustee boards and Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) have never been more important. As organizations reassess their purpose and endgame, and take steps to future-proof, having a Board that supports and inspires, while providing governance oversight and challenge, could be the difference between sinking or swimming.

Organisational agility and sustainability start with the Board, and directly link to smart Trustee and NED recruitment. Are your trustees well equipped to sense-check your theory of change and bring inventive thinking to your current business model? Does your Board have representation from those that you serve? Do your NEDs offer you critical connectivity in the market? How well is your collective prone to group-think? Are they sufficiently poised to advise on wider societal change linked to digital innovation, leadership evolution, diversity, equity and inclusion, and the changing commercial and funding landscapes?

There’s a clear strategic and commercial imperative to take your board recruitment seriously and our team is well equipped to support through bespoke board recruitment, skills and diversity audits, and tailored advisory services. Our team brings a wealth of experience from single trustee appointments to board re-builds and expansions. We genuinely love surfacing fresh leaders that bring value, but respect governance lines, and giving busy boards capacity for bespoke search and selection.

But irrespective of whether you recruit to your Board with a search partner, here are our essential steps for successful board recruitment:

Define the brief

Understand the mix of skills, perspectives and experience on your current Board before you begin recruiting. Do you have a schedule of trustee terms mapped against a recent skills and diversity audit? Does your organization’s direction of travel mean your Board would benefit from introducing different skills? Board recruitment isn’t a simple like-for-like exercise – reviewing context and potential blind spots is essential to identifying your most pressing gaps, which are increasingly likely to be intersectional.

Shape your narrative

Otherwise known as ‘the why’, your narrative explains how you arrived at the brief and why people should get excited about joining your Board. Are you looking for someone with a commercial background to advise on a new enterprise model you’ve launched? Does (for example) your charity serve ex-offenders but lack representation from this group on the Board? Are you working towards being an anti-racist organization, but lacking strategic perspective from people of color? Showcase your successes and goals. Share where you could be doing better.

Your recruitment material should be honest, enticing and clear about the rationale for board recruitment, how the Board is impactful and what professional development and exposure trustees or NEDs stand to gain by committing (particularly as non-commercial board positions are generally unpaid).

Set clear parameters

Be explicit about the governance lines between your Board and your executives. While boards should operate in a strategic advisory realm and avoid governance-creep into operations, each organization has unique requirements based on the size and shape of its core team. Be clear about the expected time commitment and how this time translates in practice (ie. two days per month rarely means two full working days). Consider if the timing or logistics of your board meetings might prove limiting to recruiting varied trustees. For example, are meetings offered accessibly, remotely, or held in the evenings, often making it easier for working professionals to commit, but potentially harder for those with caring responsibilities?

Invest in recruitment

Develop a clear recruitment process - often led by a board sub-committee with delegated authority to advise on appointments. Think carefully about the mix of backgrounds and perspectives on this committee and foster clear dialogue between it and your executive team. Think through your advertising and advocacy strategy - who is available to speak with interested parties? Ensure the process gives candidates a sight-line to your organization’s team and stakeholders. Consider reviewing how open and inclusive your assessment approach is and seek feedback on your process. This is where support from a search partner pays real dividends in terms of proactive but focused reach beyond your core networks, and the administration of an open, inclusive recruitment process.

Develop onboarding practice

Develop an onboarding checklist that ensures trustees and NEDs are clear on their legal responsibilities, your Memorandum/Articles of Association, and your policies and procedures. Ensure they are aware of key meeting dates and have time in the diary to build understanding and ask questions, perhaps through use of a board buddy system. Starting off on a communicative, organised footing sets the tone for engaged trustees and NEDs, which will collectively lead to a more productive, successful board dynamic.