Monday, February 7, 2011

Curious nonprofit boards: The first recruitment step

What does a “curious” board member look like? How do we know a “curious” board prospect when we encounter one? How can we be sure – or at least pointed in the right direction – that we are considering a “curious” person for our board?

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while – or even last week – those questions probably have crossed your mind. They’ve been bouncing around in my brain for a few months now, as my conviction that curiosity needs to be a part of the board member job description has strengthened.

How do we recruit for curiosity? It would never be as simple as having a checklist to mark off in the selection process. But it’s worthwhile to generate some fairly tangible ideas, in the spirit of raising our awareness and our capacity to recognize glimpses of the curious individual when we encounter him/her. Just as I am wary of "five easy steps to..." solutions to complex nonprofit governance problems, I also know that grand theories that cannot be translated to the boardroom are equally useless.

What follow are some of my initial thoughts about questions that might contribute to this process. I offer them, not as one big expansion of your recruitment process (you’d never sit down with this entire list, for example, and grill a prospect by lobbing every question at him/her), nor as that ideal “curiosity finder” checklist. But they’re shared in the hope that they might spark some conversation about introducing curiosity to our recruitment frameworks.

If I were interviewing for curiosity, some of the kinds of questions I might ask prospects would include:

  • When you want or need to learn something new, where or how do you get started? (Or, more directly related to board service, “When you accept a new leadership assignment – like a joining a board – how do you go about getting acquainted with the work and your responsibilities?”)
  • Describe a recent challenge that you overcame and tell us how you approached it.
  • What excites you, and why?
  • What secret skill or knowledge to you have that you’d be willing to share with our organization?
  • How would you describe your approach to meeting participation?
  • What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve done? (Or, simply, “Are you adventurous?”)
  • If you wanted to know how the community felt about our organization, how would you go about finding out?
  • What questions do you have about the work that we do?

I’m not at all comfortable with these “interview questions,” and this post feels like a very rough first draft of what I might really want to share publicly. But they’re a starting point to my personal exploration of curiosity in board recruitment – and, I hope, some conversation with readers. I also acknowledge that recruitment of curious members is only a first step toward what boards ultimately need to succeed. But it’s a step in that right direction.

I believe there is value in understanding what “curiosity” looks like in nonprofit boards and how it might increase their capacity for governance. Curious boards are engaged boards, and engaged boards are more likely to ask the kinds of questions that lead to more thoughtful and creative decisions.

This post is a personal baby-step in an exploration of a topic that has great potential to fill in a missing piece of the nonprofit governance puzzle for me. I can guarantee that I’ll be reflecting and writing more on curious boards down the road. I look forward to exploring it with you along the way.


eugenefram said...

One question that I have used in interviewing people for executive positions is to ask them to describe the best people whom they have managed and/or hired.

Look for descriptions of people who are curious and have insight as compared with people who are good technicians. "A" people hire "A" people.

Debra said...

Marvelous, marvelous recommendations, Eugene. I'm particularly taken by the potential represented in the question you offered. Thanks so much for sharing!