6 Ways to Attract Great Board Members
Some business structures require a board of directors, including nonprofits, S-Corporations, C-Corporations, or any business entity that receives capital funding. That's a good thing because a board is a great way to get the resources, talents, and skills you need. Very few small businesses are made up of people who have every skill for successful operation; this can be particularly true when the company grows quickly. Adding complementary skills and industry experience helps manage growth, raise capital, and refocus your strategy.
Remember: A board of directors is meant to help you and your business. Sometimes it can help management and founders take a breather. How do you recruit the right board members? Keep these ideas in mind first.
1. Put the role of board members in writing
You wouldn't recruit a new employee without formulating a job description, and the same should be true of board members. This doesn't just help you figure out exactly what you're looking for, but it also helps potential board members see if they're a good fit. You can even write this into your business plan.
2. Consider the financial commitment
There are many boards where the members are required to give a personal dollar amount each year, and that's perfectly legal. There are other boards where this isn't a requirement, often in nonprofits where it's thought that a financial commitment could be a barrier to securing a great board member. Only you can decide whether or not to instill a financial obligation, but it often plays a part in helping potential board members decide whether to join your cause.
3. Use your networks first
Unlike hiring employees, asking friends and family for referrals is a great starting point. Since board members can essentially work for free (or sometimes, in a sense, pay for the privilege) you're looking for an entirely different type of person than when you hire for an in-house position.
Strong business relationships are also a great portion of your network that should be examined for potential board members. "I call them 'reciprocal relationships,'" says Marty Weintraub, founder of aimClear, which has appeared on the Inc. 5,000 marketing list three times. "One of our strongest and most valuable board members is the president of our largest marketing partner. Also, if I'm already paying a vendor, obviously that implies a certain level of respect--and that person has more skin in the game potentially."
4. Be wary of board search firms
Not surprisingly, there are companies and firms with one mission: to get paid very well for finding the "perfect board member for you." Sometimes these firms can be effective, but they also can be a very costly route. Perhaps most importantly, whoever they pick may at first feel cold and foreign to you. Generally, whenever someone joins your board it should, in a perfect world, be a natural, organic event. If it's in the budget and your own efforts run dry, it's an option, but don't go to a firm first.
5. Write a recruitment plan
You can't go into this blindly, and you need to be ready to talk about board responsibilities and how much time commitment is involved. You can advertise for a board position the same way you advertise for an employee position. In some instances board members are given compensation (usually for larger corporations). Get these details in writing.
6. Aim high
Aim for the best board members working in your field. Weintraub says write up a list of ideal board members, then reach out to anyone on it. "Read articles and find information online about the top board members who are active in your field and have already done what you plan on doing. Then engage in a little social climbing if you can and see who you connect with. Just because Mark Andreessen is famous doesn't mean he won't be interested and it doesn't mean you shouldn't try to contact him."
Finding solid board directors is an ongoing process that may not always feel intuitive or natural. However, with a little thought, planning, and social ingenuity, you should be able to gather the group of advisers you need.
JOHN BOITNOTT | Columnist
A journalist and digital consultant, John Boitnott has worked at TV, newspaper, radio, and internet companies in California for 20 years.