LCO 101: Recruiting Board Members

Categories: LCO 101

The board of trustees or board of directors is the nucleus of any local climbing organization. They are the bedrock human resource that guides your organization by tackling the big questions head-on: long-term goals, fiduciary matters, resource management, and more. But it can be difficult to find good people even in the best of times. That’s why it’s crucial that your LCO put thoughtful, intentional, and sustainable board recruitment practices in place. Doing the work now to find and keep good board members will result in a stronger and more effective LCO over the long haul—after all, your organization is only as good as its people.

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Start with a Job Description/Be Clear on Role and Responsibilities

Give prospective board members a crystal clear picture of their role, responsibilities, and time commitment—there’s no excuse for anything less. Are weekends and after-hours calls expected? How long will their term last? And what’s their role? Each board position, including general board seats or at-large members, should have a detailed written job description you can give recruits beforehand. Don’t leave it open-ended or vague—this will only lead to burnout or low-performing, no-show board members. Set responsibilities clearly and succinctly, and you’re more likely to get the higher level board engagement you want.

A Diverse Board is Good, Period

The research is in, and more diverse boards perform better, last longer, and are more representative of the climbing community. In a nutshell: Recruit for diversity, in all its meaning. So, when considering new board members, consider diversity of personal backgrounds, professions, geography, climbing interests and other aspects. Hold yourself and your LCO up to a mirror and find gaps that new members can fill. Is your board membership predominantly white or male? Is there a professional skill set you need on your board, such as finance or an attorney? Diversity is an essential lens for your LCO to look through when you recruit new board members.

Build a Pipeline

Finding new board members can be tough, but there are a few tried-and-true avenues to go down. First, use your communications channels—social media, email newsletters, etc.—to publicly announce open board positions and invite applications. Post it like a job. Second, your events and trail days are another spot to watch for dedicated, qualified, and psyched people with board potential. Third, if you have a contact, member, or donor list, sometimes reaching out to some of your more committed supporters yields a good prospect. Lastly, lean on your board members to tap their networks or conduct a search, but do so with caution as it’s not always the best idea to recruit friends or close acquaintances.

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Use Your Committees to Recruit and Vet Potential Board Members

Committees help feed two birds with one scone. They accomplish essential LCO functions and also serve as an ideal place to spot volunteers with board member potential. Often LCOs will have a board plus a few sub-committees that handle more specialized topics. These committees can serve board recruitment really darn well because committee members do not have to be board members—only dedicated and focused volunteers. Their time and work on a committee is a great place to gauge their performance, commitment, and potential for full-fledged board membership.

Run Good Meetings and Retreats

One of the biggest complaints we hear from LCO board members is about meetings that last for hours or are too frequent or end up centering around discussions that don’t accomplish anything. One of the best things you can do for long-term recruitment is to run tight meetings that stick to a planned agenda, with clear topics for discussion vs. decision, and appointed meeting runners. Sticking to an agenda and meeting a schedule is no small feat, but it improves the board experience. Prospects will know that the board is solid and well-run, which enhances your ability to recruit.

Honor Outgoing Board Members

It’s not all about onboarding. Seeing off board members with respect and honor for their contributions is also a key part of the process. When a board member terms off or leaves, recognize them or give them an award or plaque, and involve the entire board in the recognition. Fellow board members will see that their work will in turn be appreciated, and it also ripples out into the rest of the organization. Former board members who feel like their time and efforts were appreciated often still help their LCO in various ways, including identifying successors or recruits to carry the torch.