February 19, 2014; San Francisco Business Journal
Earlier this week, more than 150 Bay Area nonprofit organizations and 1,000 potential board members convened for the ninth annual Board Match event hosted by the Volunteer Center serving San Francisco and San Mateo counties. In a philanthropic version of “speed dating,” nonprofit executives staffed booths, shared their mission, answered questions, and interviewed potential candidates on the spot.
Speed dating for board members and volunteers is not a new concept; we have reported on similar events that have been held in other cities. But since many nonprofits still struggle to find effective board members, this idea may be worth expanding. It is certainly having an impact in the Bay Area. When the Board Match event was initiated in 2005, only a few hundred potential board members were in attendance. Now, with more than a thousand candidates present, many of the nonprofits return year after year to meet and recruit new directors.
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Such events may also help combat some of the leadership challenges of running a self-perpetuating (or self-nominating) board. Self-perpetuating boards are tempted to recruit new board members from amongst their friends and colleagues and thereby run the risk of becoming unrepresentative of the target population and service area. The ability of self-perpetuating boards to develop a strong board culture may also increase the risk of becoming too insular and unresponsive. Speed dating events like Board Match can help self-perpetuating boards meet and recruit candidates they would never otherwise have considered. Self-perpetuating boards, unlike an elected or appointed board, also have the opportunity to recruit for specific skill sets. At the Board Match event, nonprofits could use the opportunity to advertise for and recruit board members with specific knowledge, such as legal, financial, or technical expertise.
Of course, the situation is not either/or, self-perpetuating or speed dating. In fact, to extend the metaphor, if we went into personal speed dating with the idea of simply installing someone we met there as our boyfriend or girlfriend with a term of service, we would likely be disappointed. If your nonprofit has a strategy wherein it engages stakeholders in committees and otherwise, it will have a diverse, tested, and committed pool to draw from at all times. Maybe we all need to reconsider those engagement strategies more generally.
In the end, successful board service is about finding the right match. More than 200 matches were made at the 2013 Board Match event, but for those participants who didn’t find a few true loves, it’s important to keep searching. “Board service is for everyone,” the Volunteer Center indicates on its website. “Whether you’re just starting out, a mid-career professional, or a seasoned philanthropist, there is a nonprofit that will value your talents.”—Jennifer Amanda Jones