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Community Action Agency Board Members Toolkit in a Nutshell

CHAPTER TEN. Board Recruitment and Retention

A Community Action Agency has a structure that is required by Federal and state law. This “tripartite” composition consists of (1) democratically selected representatives of the poor, of (2) elected public officials, and (3) the private sector including business, labor, religion, service providers, education, law enforcement and other interests in the community. A more detailed description of these requirements is found in the section on Organization and Responsibilities of a CAA Board.

You have to know the CAA’s strengths and weaknesses. Through discussions of the board, you will identify the “gaps” in board membership. You will identify people who can help the CAA carry out its mission. They may be affiliated with some constituency or organization, or the person may be an up-and-coming community leader.

In the process of recruiting new board members, you are trying to persuade them to affiliate both with you personally and with an organization.  The impression that this person has or that they develop of your CAA is very important to their agreeing to affiliate. You have to build a positive image of your CAA, clarify the opportunities for community service and personal satisfaction, and think about how to retain them for the long haul.

a. Build a positive image of your CAA in their mind
1. Know your CAA – its history, programs, mission and vision. The CAA is a bundle of ideas, hopes, commitments, and activities that you are asking them to agree with. (Well, to agree with most of it, anyhow J)
2. Be able to articulate why you are on the board. Know your own leadership goals and where you fit in on your board.
3. Understand the possibilities for the candidate. There has to be something that THEY want to do in the CAA, not just something that you want them to do.
4. If they have served on other boards, be able to explain that a CAA has a unique composition, purpose and mission.
5. Begin by meeting with them informally to begin explaining what the CAA is and what it does. Take them to visit program sites. Arrange meetings with other Board members.
b. Recruitment strategies:  building your image
1. What tools do you need?  The Annual Report, agency brochure, newsletters, and news articles all help to establish your credibility. Give them to the possible candidates.
2. Recognize the benefits of membership to the community and to the candidate personally, and articulate them. These include benefits to the community or to a specific population group the candidate may be concerned about. These include how the candidate can help solve a community problem or achieve a desired goal. There are personal benefits, too, in terms of affiliation with a good group of people, recognition, and enjoyable social activity. Be able to tell them “what’s in it for me.”   Describing the benefits you get will help them understand what benefits they may get.
3. Be proactive, conduct interviews, talk to candidates about their goals, views, wants, why they might want to be on a board.
c. Retention strategies

      Boards sometimes perceive that they have a recruitment problem when in fact they have a retention problem. People quit before the end of their term. You should retain a board member for several years.

1. Don't stereotype board members – provide them the opportunity to play the role they want (which may or may not be their career, i.e. an attorney may want to help out at the Food Bank, etc.)
2. Involve them. Make sure every board member has something to do. Recognize and utilize their values, skills, and experience.
3. Develop them – provide orientation and training for all members. They have a variety of needs and interests: skills, leadership development. Develop individuals and the group, team building, communication. (See the section on Board Development for additional ideas.) 
4. Don't impose staff-type roles on board members. Board members usually can not become program experts; staff are paid to know the latest regulations and to keep track of what funders, and what other programs are doing in terms of “best practices.”  Board members should talk about the results they want to see the programs produce, about how programs fit with other programs, about the community perspective, about generating support, and other big picture ideas. The means, or program details, are the responsibility of staff.
5. Balance the amount of time that board members spend reviewing historical actions of staff (e.g. past performance, fiscal reports) and board members doing their own work. Board members should have duties beyond just attending board meetings. They should engage in public relations, meeting with other agencies or elected officials, advocating on concerns of the low-income people.
d. Additional approaches or steps in board recruitment

You can “grow” new board members by identifying volunteers or program participants and getting them into activities that lead to board membership. You should start “grooming” candidates for the Board three to five years out. Find that person. If you do this year round as part of your capacity building process and not just when there is a vacancy, then you have candidates when vacancies do occur.

1. Board of Directors Responsibilities in Recruitment:

(Adopted from United Way training materials developed by Barbara Barrett Foster).

·  Approve Board member criteria and selection processes.

·  Identify organizations that will select members

·  Charter the Nominating Committee.

·  Nomination and election of officers

·  Conduct evaluation of Board effectiveness and individual board member effectiveness.

·   Rotate Board jobs.

·    Terminate members.

Nominating Committee Responsibilities

· Develop Board member criteria.

· Identify potential members:  doers who will work.

· Recruit potential members. Visit them several times.

· Present potential members to the Board.

· Provide for orientation of potential and new members.

· Provide for training and continuing education of all members.


2. The nominating process.

     This material on nominations was developed in 1983 by Mary Urban Wright and Connie Benton Wolfe of Consulting and Training Services, for the Voluntary Action Center of United Way, Dayton, Ohio. Contact Ms. Wright at

Responsibilities of the Nominating Committee (working on selection of new Board members)

1. Understand its charge, goals and responsibilities as a committee.
2. Have an understanding of the organization's purpose, needs and goals.
3. Understand the policies, procedures, deadlines, by-laws, etc., under which it operates and has authority.
4. Determine what is needed to strengthen the organization's Board.
5. Identify potential nominees or organizations who will nominate based on the needs determined, and gather appropriate information about each potential nominee the committee will need to make a recommendation.
6. Develop nominees, or organizations who will nominate, with 2nd, 3rd choices, etc., for each vacancy.
7. Determine who from the committee will recruit each potential nominee, keeping in mind that the initial conversation with each potential nominee is an exploration into their availability, suitability, and willingness to be nominated.
8. Formal notification of the final nominees to be recommended for selection.
9. Presentation of the final list.
10. Recommend to the Board individuals qualified, available and willing to be appointed to the Board in case of vacancies during the year.
11. Keep the best interests of the organization at heart, both current and future.
12. Work together as a team, seeking input and contributions from each member -- without judging those contributions or discounting them.
13. Take seriously its responsibilities and use every available resource to bring to the Board the best possible candidates.
14. The Nominating Committee may also have the responsibility of nominating a slate of officers to be elected by the Board each year or as indicated in the by-laws.
15. Based upon past performance and participation, the committee must also make recommendations regarding the possible re‑selection of Board members who have come to the end of their first term and are eligible for a second.
16. Recognize that nomination work is continual, year-round. It is not an event or a meeting; it is an ongoing process.
e. Board Orientation

i. Recruitment Stage

      You have to manage the process of orientation to the CAA and its goals. This is usually done by other board members with assistance from the Executive Director.

1. Description of agency purposes, strategic plan, major programs, funding sources (including some information, 1 or 2 pages, in writing).
2. Expectations of prospective member -- meetings, committee assignments, tenure, time (hours per month).
3. List of current Board members. Make a pitch by existing board members as to why one should want to serve.
4. Visit to agency by prospective member to see programs in action, or talk with agency director; possible attendance at one Board meeting to observe.
5. Copy of bylaws and last annual audit of agency to keep if requested.

 ii. Preliminary Orientation: Some Background

     Start with informal meetings with key people. Give them an orientation manual or “kit” which could include bylaws, articles of incorporation, description of programs, current budget, last audited financial statements, list of Board members with their addresses, lists of committee and staff assignments, copies of minutes from previous year, copy of long-range plan and copy of agency objectives for coming year. But -- don’t overwhelm them with paper!

iii. Orientation and Introduction

     Orientation Session. Includes review of board manual. Should occur prior to new member’s first board meeting or at special orientation for new Board members with the Chair, the Executive Director, and others. Plan on at least two hours for this. 

        1. Assignments to specific committee task. Put them to work!
   2. Orientation to work of specific committee.
   3. Written background material helpful.

iv. On-Going Training:

1. Consultation with appropriate committee chairpersons and staff to obtain full involvement of new member.
2. Assistance in carrying out responsibility.
3. Participation in special workshops related to the assignment.
4. Recognition for work, and ultimate expansion of responsibility or rotation to another committee where possible to continue to learn more about the agency and contribute to its achievements.
Note:  Throughout the orientation and training process, the agency should provide for recognition of work and ultimate expansion of responsibility or rotation to another committee. This will enable Board members to continue to learn more about the agency and contribute to its achievements. It will assist the agency by providing a continuous development of future volunteer leaders.

Adapted from several sources, especially by Barbara Barrett Foster.

 v. And remember – recognition, recognition, recognition. Public Thank Yous. Put the thank-you in the minutes. Give them a letter, or mail a letter to the organization/s they represent. Give them a plaque, provide a framed photo, etc.


Chapter 10 Quiz

1. When trying to recruit board members, are you trying to persuade them to connect (a) with you personally, or (b) with the organization, or (c) both.
2. You can “grow” new board members. What are some of the ways you can do this?
3. What kind of time period should you be using to grow new board members?
4. What are some of the ways to retain board members?

Answers to Chapter 10 Quiz

1. The answer is c. Usually, you are trying to do both.
2. Identify people who can learn how to be a board member. Cultivate them, help them gain experience and training.
3. Three to five years is a good time period in which to grow candidates for the board.
4. Put them to work immediately. Do not require them to spend two or three years learning detailed program regulations before allowing them to act with authority.

Toolkit Home    Chapter 11

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