No matter what stage a community or philanthropic organization is in, there is always the issue of selecting or electing the right board to govern the organization. It must never be a case of accepting warm bodies.

This is the opportunity for choosing a group of individuals who give the organization the best chance to succeed.

Here are seven elements to consider when choosing community board candidates:

Commitment – Is a candidate willing or able to make the commitment to organization projects? Do regular or committee meetings conflict with their existing schedule? Often, it’s the same face who appears in different community organizations. You want to make sure potential board members have the appropriate time to spend with your organization.

Community reputation – Are they known in the community or channel? Do they have a good reputation for community leadership? A potential board member has developed their contacts, and reputation within the community – and a board member must take ownership and be a strong representative of the challenge the minute they join your organization.

Understanding of the mission – People join boards and organizations for different reasons. Sometimes they have a passion for one particular area they’d like to see developed. Other times they just don’t know where to start but want to contribute. A potential board member must show they have a grounding in what your organization is about. They must understand the priorities and the mission. They should read your bylaws and visit your website before election and make a personal decision whether the group is moving in the direction they are comfortable with or at the speed they can accept.

Are they resume building? – Every board has a different makeup. And every board knows what they need in board member candidates. Candidates must bring performance and purpose to the board. Volunteer boards may well be stepping stones to larger organizations for some. As a board member, however, whatever their long-term aspirations may be, they need to show commitment to your cause, separate from other causes they may be developing.

Do they fit the community needs? – The most productive boards represent a wide range of views and experiences all driving toward the same goal. The diversity is critical for new ideas, processes and to view the entire community the board serves. Have you considered what sectors of your mission are represented by the board? Do you have am mix of experienced board members and newcomers.

Potential – Do you see potential in a new candidate for the board. Can you see them driving and taking on an executive position in coming years? Not everyone has to be president, but with experience on the board should come knowledge and senior members can bring knowledgeable capabilities to board discussion and activities, as well as provide a guiding hand for newcomers. Succession is critical to create consistency and fluidity of operations from one board to the next elected board.

Past performance – Has your potential board member had past experience on other committees? Were they a team player? Did they embrace that challenge or were they disruptive. Bring new ideas not previously embraced by your board is not necessarily a bad thing – but can they do it in a manner to gain acceptance and respect for their contributions.

Joining a community or organizational board can be an enriching experience and an education.  Some will thrive and some will choose not to continue with the organization. That’s OK too.

But it’s absolutely critical for the organization to spell out the expectations – whether it’s contribution, commitment or expectation of an understanding of mission and priorities. Without strong thought ahead of time to guide the search for new board members you run the risk of poor performance by a new board member and at the worse, disfunction at the board room table.

Peter Haggert is past president of the Scarborough Business Association and has participated in numerous local, national and international boards and committees.

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