The Dos & Don’ts of Recruiting and Orienting New Board Members in a Virtual World

By: Heather Terrence, CAE

Over the past few months, I have been consulting for a non-profit helping them recruit new board members. It occurred to me at the beginning of the project we may need to pivot our efforts as we transition to a fully virtual world.

However, as we worked through all of the processes, it became clear it is still pretty much business as usual and we cannot use this unprecedented time as an excuse to cut corners. Although we are working in a virtual world, it is vital to follow through on our board recruitment and onboarding processes.

Here are some dos and don’ts to guide you through your board recruitment and onboarding.


Complete the groundwork and get organized

Commit to investing the time needed to recruit new board members. Delegate board recruitment to your nominating or board development committee and confirm the processes that will be followed.

Work through what skills, experience and competencies you need

Create or use your existing board skills matrix to assess your current board and identify any gaps, especially those that will exist if there is turnover in the near future. Determine what other unique skills or requirements your board needs.

Recruit candidates

Share, share, share! Leverage the personal networks of your board and committee members, Executive Director/CEO and staff to promote the position(s) available. Use your organization’s social media connections and take advantage of the networks of like-minded organizations as they can be effective recruiters.

Evaluate candidates

Interview your shortlisted candidates via video conference. Make sure to ask if there are any conflicts of interest. Be honest about the challenges you face, and the time involved in serving on the board along with any committee work.

Nominate / elect / appoint new board members

Conduct reference and background checks on your shortlisted candidates and put them forward for election or appointment in accordance with your by-laws and/or board policies.

Conduct a new board member orientation

Provide orientation for new directors to both the organization and to the board member role. Require all new board member to sign a ‘commitment to serve’ form which sets expectations and rules to follow. Follow up with new directors 8 to 12 weeks after orientation on any issues, and to obtain feedback about the onboarding process.


Don’t extend board terms

Board terms should only be extended if there are multiple extenuating circumstances making it an absolute necessity, and a complete last resort. Extending terms may send a message to your members that leadership is unable to pivot and proceed with the usual recruitment processes. Extending terms may also mean missing out on quality candidates with more flexible schedules who want to step up during this uncertain time.

Don’t hand-pick board members

In the interest of tight deadlines and in light of a resource crunch during this unprecedented time, some boards may be tempted to hand-pick candidates instead of following due process.

Don’t cut corners or leave out steps in your recruitment or orientation processes

Cutting recruitment or orientation corners compromises the integrity of your processes and makes them less defendable.

Don’t delay your recruitment and orientation processes

Follow through on your annual recruitment and orientation timelines and processes. This will provide assurance to members you are conducting business as usual.

Use down-time to improve your processes

If your association has some down-time this summer, it is an ideal moment to step back and reassess your recruitment and onboarding efforts and compare them to leading practices. Ideas to explore include:

  • Simplifying the application process and moving to an online platform.
  • Creating a board recruitment package, brochure or video – or all three!
  • Updating your board skills matrix.
  • Updating your board interview questions and incorporating an emotional intelligence component.
  • Creating a call for volunteers that looks less like a by-law requirement and more like a call to action. Hit their passion and heartstrings and emphasize the value of the position and the organization.

When it comes to board recruitment and orientation, don’t be tempted to take the easiest, fastest and cheapest route. Board recruitment is not just about filling seats, it’s about finding the leaders of tomorrow to help to steer your organization in the right direction. This requires discipline, commitment and follow-through.

Heather Terrence is President of Pinpoint Governance Group and is a governance expert, consultant and Certified Association Executive (CAE) with over 20 years of experience in non-profit organizations.