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Four Easy Steps to Committee Member Recruitment

Amy Schiffman
August 17, 2017

Now is the time of year when we tend to think about our standing and ad hoc committee structures and wonder if we have a) the right people; b) enough people; and c) a clear understanding of what it is the committee is supposed to do. A few weeks ago we talked about how we know if we have the “right” standing board committees. So I’d like to proceed with the assumption that you have defined your standing board committee structure and determined which committees are appropriate for non-board members. What’s left is a question of recruitment, i.e., “how do I get the right people to serve?”

Let’s review 4 steps that will help you answer that question…

  1. Develop the committee role description, also known as a committee charge or charter. The committee charter outlines the committee’s role and briefly reviews the areas under the committee’s domain. For example, a marketing committee charter might include responsibilities such as the development of an annual communications plan, an editorial calendar, campaign messaging and a public relations strategy. Depending on the size and nature of the nonprofit, this committee might also oversee website development and a direct mail strategy. Decide in advance what this committee will do. This will make recruitment of committee members easier for two reasons. The first is that people are a lot more willing to volunteer if they know exactly what’s involved with the role. Committee charters help volunteers get a fairly detailed understanding of this work and where they fit into the picture. Second, you’ll have a better sense of your needs once you develop the charter. For example, if this committee will oversee the redevelopment of your website, then you are probably looking for someone with experience in web development or content creation. If there is a strong emphasis on public relations, you may want one or more committee members who are able to write and edit press releases or have strong media contacts.
  2. Create an ideal candidate profile. Once you have your charter developed and a strong sense of what you need from your committee, create a document that outlines the skill sets, talents, characteristics and traits of the ideal committee member. Share this profile with current committee members, board members and staff so that they are able to brainstorm with you about possible candidates.
  3. Go out and recruit. I’ve worked with nonprofits that post a board or committee opportunity on LinkedIn or Facebook (not a bad idea) and sit back and wait for candidates to come to them. Recruitment does not typically work this way. When I’m seeking new board or committee members I share the ideal candidate profile with my network. I then ask those I feel are particularly well networked to sit with me for lunch or coffee and brainstorm about candidate possibilities. I also make a lot of phone calls and ask friends and colleagues for ideas and names. It’s not unlike searching for the right professional – they don’t always respond to the job posting! You’ve got to speak to as many people as possible and pound the pavement. I create a candidate tracker in Google Docs that I share with fellow committee members and update the team on my progress. Finally, I meet with those who are referred to me and share information about the nonprofit as well as the committee charter.
  4. Ask correctly. I have caught myself physically cringing upon overhearing a conversation during which a volunteer is begged, coerced or misled regarding committee or board membership. The manner in which you ask and the picture you create for your committee candidate is crucial to the process. I like to give a candidate a very concrete understanding of what is involved with the role, present the opportunity as an honor (not a chore) and finally, ask in a way that allows them to understand exactly why I want them.
    Try this on for size:

“Jane, I shared with you the fundraising committee charter and asked you for lunch today because we have been talking about you (pause while they consider the fact that you have been talking about them). Your volunteer experience in the nonprofit sector, and specifically your role in the capital campaign for the Zoo, makes you a perfect candidate for our Development Committee. We could learn so much from your fundraising experience and this organization would gain so much from your connections in the community. It would be wonderful to have your help building out our alumni program. I also think you would enjoy this experience because we have successful, smart people on our committee.”

This is a very different approach then the apologetic, uncomfortable recruitment conversations I unfortunately overhear far too often. So remember to paint a positive picture, tell them why you want them and frame the ask as an honor.

Check out this week's freebie: Three Tools to Recruit Your Ideal Committee Members and get started with building the perfect committee. The next step is the proper orientation and on-boarding of board and committee members – but that is for the next blog post! Until then, I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts on this post and if you think these tips might work for you. Please also share your adventures in committee recruitment and whether or not these four steps allowed you a more productive, positive path toward volunteer engagement.

Happy recruiting!