Nonprofit Board Member and Officer Elections
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by Mike Burns
Welcome to the elections edition of this column! I am sure that if you live in the U.S., this election period has been exhausting. You are likely questioning my rationale in even broaching the subject. While political elections may be over, the work to select and take action to determine who will get a seat and who will "lead" has arrived for many nonprofit boards. And for those whose tax year is different from the calendar year, your job of filling member and officer seats has just been deferred. This is a task for all boards that value bringing in individuals who are equally committed to moving the mission.
Governance committees are becoming the center of board member recruitment and officer selection. At minimum, I propose the following to be coordinated by the governance committee:
- Conduct an annual board member self-assessment. You can find plenty of tools with a quick Google search. I recommend Board Check-Up, a board assessment service from Yvonne Harrison and Vic Murray. This assessment will help the governance committee learn what is working, the type of skills needed for the board and where change is needed.
- Create and implement a multi-year board recruitment plan, and remember that diversity is essential. The plan should be updated annually and include assignments specifying recruitment roles for all board members — this is everyone's job!
- Develop and implement a plan for cultivating those who could become officers so that every member has the potential to serve, and when called, they will be prepared.
- Develop and implement a plan for supporting those who are elected as officers, including a mentoring and education plan. If elections were conducted three to four months ahead of new officers' terms, officers would be better prepared for their duties.
- Ensure the election process is more than just "Here's a slate of candidates. Now vote." The event should ensure that education about the candidates is shared and include discussion about the direction (reflective of what was learned in the self-assessment) and a vote that maybe even offers choices depending on the size of board.
- Evaluate, evaluate and evaluate to ensure the plans are effective and lead to results that are positive for the board and organization.
- Celebrate and acknowledge. The board should take time at the conclusion of the election process to formally thank and celebrate those who have agreed to serve. For example, an event with a certificate or name badge with the nonprofit's logo for new and retiring members and maybe a small useful gift (like computer screen cleaner) for officers would help create a positive moment for all while providing a positive start for the next era. And yes, this is doable in COVID-19 times.
While thinking about this subject, I went to view what States, the regulatory body that creates corporations, has to say about the required seats. The only office that every U.S. state requires be filled is that of the secretary's.
This tidbit of information should remind board members that the seat that is important but often not given the recognition of its value is that of secretary's. I would further offer that while those who fill this position are often the "last person standing," skills are required and can be transferred to prepare for service for the next year. And of course, appreciation and recognition of the individual and their tasks should receive as much acknowledgement and applause as the chair.
In conclusion, board member and officer elections is a year-long event that is designed and managed by a governance committee. The culminating event is the actual vote in which multiple choices for member and officer seats can emphasize the value of the job and the recognition that there are many who want to support the mission and many who can lead.
And finally, preparation and support matter to ensure new members and officers can do their jobs effectively.
Bottom line: The election process is a system-wide activity that is essential to moving the mission forward and ensuring a healthy, productive board.