If you’re an executive director or staff member, how can you attract and assist great board members for your bar foundation? And if you’re a bar foundation board member or leader, what does it take to succeed? Here, Kirra L. Jarratt, executive director of the District of Columbia Bar Foundation, shares her tips. In a companion article, David J. Duncan, president of the Indianapolis Bar Foundation, offers his perspective. The two spoke together on this topic at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the National Conference of Bar Foundations, in Boston.
1. Consider less traditional sources.
Most board recruitment begins with a list of friends and colleagues with whom we work or serve on other boards. We then might identify donors who serve in leadership positions themselves. But there are other pools of talent that can bring new perspectives and diversity to the board recruitment process.
One very successful effort is the United Way’s Emerging Leaders program. Young professionals who are focused on their community and leadership development make a one-year commitment to serve on the board of a local nonprofit. During that year, they receive board training from the United Way, and the board and the potential candidate have an opportunity to evaluate whether it’s a good fit.
Another rich pool of potential board members are bar leadership academies. The DC Bar offers the John A. Payton Leadership Academy. Participants include new associates and veteran attorneys who want to enhance their leadership skills. We have graduates of this program among our leadership.
Finally, there are groups like Compass. This organization serves the greater Washington and Philadelphia metro areas. It brings together business professionals to provide pro bono consulting to nonprofits in matters like board development and strategic planning. Over the course of one or two years, you work with a team of six to eight people, one of whom might make a great board candidate at the end of the project.
If your bar has a leadership academy, make sure to tap into it as a potential source of new bar foundation board members—and look into whether your locale has an organization like Compass.
2. Recruit early.
Board recruitment requires a significant investment of time. It should be something on which the board is focused throughout the year so that time can be spent identifying strong candidates, discussing their interest in the board, inviting them to signature events where they have an opportunity to learn more about the organization, and educating them about the responsibilities of board members.
3. Be strategic.
In identifying candidates, thought should be given to the current strengths and weaknesses of the board, as well as the timing of future vacancies. Who is cycling off the board this year? In the next few years? Does the board need someone with a financial background? Communications experience? Familiarity with the grantee community? Or development expertise? Do we have diversity with respect to things like age, practice area, and practice size?
Thought should also be given to who can (and is willing to) assume an officer or committee chair position in years to come. Succession planning is critical to the longevity of the organization.
4. Consider philosophy.
While it’s critically important to have board members who are committed to the mission of the organization, it’s equally important to have board members who believe in investing in the organization itself in order to further that mission.
“We've all been taught that charities should spend as little as possible on overhead things like fundraising under the theory that, well, the less money you spend on fundraising, the more money there is available for the cause. Well, that's true if it's a depressing world in which this pie cannot be made any bigger.
“But if it's a logical world in which investment in fundraising actually raises more funds and makes the pie bigger, then we have it precisely backwards, and we should be investing more money—not less—in fundraising, because fundraising is the one thing that has the potential to multiply the amount of money available for the cause that we care about so deeply.”
Investments in staff and infrastructure are vital.
5. Onboard well.
At the DC Bar Foundation, we provide each new board member with an orientation that gives more detail about our programs, funding sources, and structure. Through the back end of the website, we also give them access to archives of past meetings, organizational bylaws and policies; background materials on our programs and activities; contact information for leadership and staff; committee assignments; and links to other resources like NCBF and the National Association of IOLTA Programs.
We want to make sure that all our board members feel comfortable hitting the ground running from the very beginning of the year, particularly since the first board meeting does not occur until the end of the first quarter.
Whatever your board’s meeting schedule, a good, thorough orientation will help save precious time—for the work of the board, and for all of its busy members.