Planning an Individualized “Foreground” Cultivation Process, Part I

David A. Mersky imageLast month, I introduced the concept of cultivation and recruitment of prospective candidates for leadership of your agency.  The two key concepts were to plan carefully and to create a series of “background” moves to engage all prospects as a group.  This month, I will focus upon the “foreground move”—the plan for an individualized cultivation of just one prospect.

As the committee on governance and leadership development becomes better acquainted with prospective board members, it will want to do some discrete checking on their backgrounds and on the kind of a board member they might be. The committee should plan an introductory, one-on-one meeting with each candidate it would like to recruit.

The introductory meeting is the first of several that may take place between the candidate and members of the committee, other board members and the chief executive.  Both the candidate and the organization have a stake in ensuring that s/he understands key issues such as role, workload, frequency of meetings, and expected levels of financial donation. No formula exists for determining how many meetings are necessary for achieving clear understanding.

Those who contact the candidate should scrupulously avoid committing the organization ahead of time. The decision to invite a candidate to join the board is a serious one, and should be made in consultation with the committee, the board chairperson, the chief executive, and the senior development officer. Similarly, all persons who contact the candidate should go out of their way to be sensitive to the candidate’s feelings, and should understand the need for dignity and formality in such a recruitment process. After all, some candidates may not be asked to join the board, and other candidates may decline an invitation. All parties to these delicate transactions should emerge with the feeling that everyone behaved in a sensitive and businesslike manner.

Cultivation Meetings

Here are a few recommendations for these meetings:

Plan in advance for the meeting. Naturally, you want to have a relaxed and enjoyable meeting, but even so, you will find that your meeting goes more smoothly if you think about it beforehand. Get input from the chairperson of the board, chief executive, senior development officer and/or the chairperson of the committee on governance and leadership development.

  • Decide who will talk about what, and in what order. Consider role-playing the meeting with an experienced person if one of the individuals representing your organization has not participated in such a meeting before.
  • Decide what organizational material to bring (both material that has and has not been sent before). Create a checklist to help you keep track of available materials and of what has been sent to prospective board members.
  • Decide when to give the material to the prospective board member. A comprehensive calendar should include this level of detail to ensure you show your organization to be organized, consistent and attractive to a candidate.

We emphasize the importance of well-prepared cultivation meetings because you will increasingly be facing competition for good board members. Competition is the result of tremendous growth in the nonprofit sector.

NEXT MONTH: Planning an Individualized, “Foreground” Cultivation Process, Part II

LAST MONTH: Cultivate and Recruit New Board Members