In the never ending search for the best board member, Governance Committees ask candidates all types of questions, or not. And the Committees set goals for what constitutes a good "fit" in terms of a number of variables. The following Huffington Post article offers fresh insights on the subject of screening for who will best "fit" your nonprofit board.
What issues are you passionate about?
What kind of board do you want to serve on?
Where do you live and work?
To which organizations have you contributed in the past?
If these are the questions that are posed to nonprofit board candidates at the outset of the board-matching process, this can feed into what Tyler Cowen calls “The New Era of Segregation.” Cowen describes how “digital servants help us match to what we already like, or what is like us.” He explains further that “better matching can mean more segregation—broader than race—less mixing by income level, education level, and type of work.” Cowen is describing the algorithms that help people find partners, jobs, and neighborhoods. But the same principles apply to finding the right board match.
The danger of becoming “more and more isolated from other socio-economic classes” is a particular hazard with online/digital matching. But the tendency to be “isolated from those who are truly different” can also be supported, unwittingly, by a variety of approaches to nonprofit board-matching. Questions like the ones above can skew the direction of the process, leading candidates and the match-maker to default to what is most familiar. And the most familiar mission, setting, and community can limit the value of new board member’s contribution and experience.
When people are matched effectively, the new board member grows, personally and professionally; the board is enriched by a fresh perspective as well as much-needed experience and expertise; the nonprofit is better equipped to achieve its aspirations; and the community improves. When the match is right, the board member’s employer also gains. The company’s reputation is enhanced when their employees make meaningful and productive contributions. Additionally, their employees who serve bring back a deeper understanding of the community and its needs, and develop as a leaders. Finally, the company strengthens its relationship with more diverse people and regions when its employees help advance high-impact nonprofits.
The matching process is a journey.
In my experience in training and placing hundreds of business executives and professionals on nonprofit boards, most candidates make unexpected choices when the process itself expands their horizons. The match is best when the candidate can experience a personal journey to explore missions, communities, and opportunities that they might never have imagined. In many cases, the journey zigs and zags in directions that candidate did not anticipate, which is why so many people ultimately choose boards that could not be foreseen.
If candidates are not asked to specify “areas of interest” (like conservation, education, arts and culture, and so on), most candidates indicate that their primary goal is to join a board where they can add value. People tend to have a broad array of interests. They seek the matchmakers’ expertise in presenting options where their particular experience, expertise, and perspective will help to advance the organization in achieving its aspirations. Only through the give and take of the discussion and process with the matchmaker can the candidate find their way to an optimal match.
Good matches help people cross the cultural divide.
Cowen describes the isolation that traditional matching can foster. He suggests that people might not have been so surprised by President Trump’s election had there been a higher level of integration among people from different backgrounds.
Perhaps with more “mixing,” to use Cowen’s term, fewer people would be so shocked by the stories and experiences depicted in the movies “13th,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” and “Moonlight.” Nonprofit board service presents outstanding opportunities for people to engage with diverse communities to understand and help solve vital social, economic, and environmental challenges.
Good matches advance integration and economic dynamism.
Cowen explains that “mixing creates economic opportunity and it boosts the chances of new ideas.” He urges that we “move towards integration and economic dynamism.” This principle of “mixing” applies to making good board matches, where people from a variety of cultures join together in advancing a mission for which they share a passion. The principle also applies to building highly effective boards. Boards comprised of people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives who bring much needed experience and expertise are best equipped to imagine and achieve the nonprofit’s greatest potential.