Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Boardroom Musical Chairs

At lunch with a group of consultants a couple of months back, we were lamenting the tendency of certain local organizations to fill their empty board seats by simply bringing on the termed-out board members of closely-linked organizations. In this scenario, as positions open up, a director will typically say, "What about so-and-so? I know her from board X." And so on, as our boards shuffle around in very small circles.

So, what's wrong with this? We recycle everything else, why not our boards of directors?

Yes, we get new members with experience serving on boards this way, but we never seem to question the depth or value of that experience. When we only recruit within our existing circles, we don't open up our boards to new ideas, new connections, and a broader range of experience.

Adding like-minded, friendly board members, who we already know, will never challenge us to consider different points-of-view, other ways of looking at the problems we face, or force us to take an honest look at our organization's practices.

Many people are drawn to serve on a nonprofit board of directors because of the social experience. We enjoy working with our friends on an issue that is close to our hearts and is important to our community. We feel it strengthens our friendships, and brings meaning to these pre-existing social relationships. And, indeed, boards of friends may be less likely to miss meetings, and might challenge members to work harder lest they lose face in front of their peers.

But there's also the very great danger of group-think. Amongst one's friends, one is less likely to speak out against a seeming popular decision. Peer pressure, and not wanting to seem out-of-step, makes yes-men and women of too many of us. The fear of harming the personal relationship makes us timid in our professional responsibilities.

Many organizations use web-based services like VolunteerMatch or BoardNetUSA to find new directors. Others advertise for board members the same as they'd do for any open staff position. Local board training and recruitment programs can often be found within chambers of commerce, community leadership programs, or nonprofit resource centers. Recently, I received an email from a national organization I belong to, asking for board nominations from among their entire membership.

So, what about your organization? Are you recycling board members within your circle of the usual suspects? Or are you actively developing new sources of recruitment? I'd love to have your comments below on where you are finding new blood for your board.

No comments:

Post a Comment