Recruitment and tenure of your board of directors

Successful recruitment is the key to a successful board of directors. The expression “time, talent and treasure” applies. Good recruitment finds and secures individuals as directors for your board with all three of these attributes: 

  • Time—to attend meetings regularly; to read over necessary materials between meetings; to see the organization in action, visit its facilities and get to know its operations
  • Talent—past experience in a similar field of activity; previous board experience; a proven record of success in business, government or the community; or, the ability to provide a unique insight
  • Treasure—for the NPO, personal giving and/or the willingness to ask people and their organizations for money is a great gift. Beyond money, an individual’s qualities and willingness to give of one’s experience are a treasure welcomed by any board of directors

Guidelines to improve board recruitment:

  • Treat board recruitment as a marketing program. Use the process to spread the word about your startup. Describe your history. Show confidence about your startup’s mission, vision and values
  • Make board recruitment a regular agenda item
  • Always include a comment about your board of directors when you explain your mission
  • Develop job descriptions for board members
  • Insist that every board member remain vigilant for possible new members 

Bring greater diversity to your board

Whenever possible, add to the diversity of the board. Those who buy shares or fund the venture want to be assured that it represents the best array of talent, not just friends or relatives of the founder.

Diversity will strengthen your board of directors

Strong boards always contain a diversity of talent and background. Individuals with backgrounds related to the focus of the startup are always welcome.

Those with experience as members of other boards of directors offer value. Strategic thinkers always raise the level of board discussions.

CEOs of non-competing organizations add strength and usually sound advice for the firm’s leader. Gender diversity also provides value, as does ethnic diversity, especially if the venture focuses on Canada’s metropolitan centres where ethnic diversity is highest.

Tenure: How long is “too long” as a board member?

There are pros and cons with board-member turnover. There is much to be said in favour of allowing members to serve as long as they feel that their contribution is worthwhile.

Seasoned board directors are quick to indicate that it takes time to fully grasp their role and learn how the venture functions. Corporate boards, where fees are paid (and more importantly, where stock plans and options are available), often leave the subject of tenure open. While this develops experience, it also has the possibility of generating complacency or “group think.”

Busy members may resign if the workload grows too onerous, forcing the board to recruit new talent. On the other hand, a fixed board term such as three to five years, with the option to stay a second term, provides for a graceful exit while opening the door for new talent to come aboard.

Some boards with this policy allow their retired directors to be re-elected after an absence of one or two years. A reasonable tenure is at least three years. By this time, a member can rise to the role of vice chair, then a year later, to the role of chair. A retiring chairperson is usually asked to stay on one more year as “Past Chair.” These matters need to be spelled out in the organization’s bylaws and they deserve to be highlighted when new directors consider a board role.

Board tenure strategy

The matter of board tenure can be solved by creating a rotating board. At the start, elect one-third of the board for one year, one third for two years, and one third for three years. Each year thereafter, replace the retiring members with three-year members. Members may be granted the right to be re-elected for one more term before retiring.


Dalhousie University, Non-Profit Leadership Program. (2006). A Guide to Successful Board Recruitment. Retrieved September 21, 2009, from