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Carol McGury Speaks Out on Not-For-Profit Governance

I’d asked my friend and a form ED of PASS to add her thoughts about the governance process for not-for-profit organizations.  Carol is one of the industry’s top professionals, serving as the chief operating officer for many years at some of the largest IT and non-IT professional associations.  I always look forward to her insight.  She writes…

As an Executive Director for another user group community, I can offer up a few thoughts as it relates to Nominating Committee best practices. I’ve been working with technology and various vendors for over 20 years, and I’ve seen the community “popular” vote vs. a vetted, nominating committee driven process. Both can work and in the “day” most organizations had open elections. In my opinion as technology and business evolved, so did the business of user groups. These aren’t clubs, they are multi-millionaire dollar businesses with the difference being no profits are returned to individual directors but reinvested in the community. A slated election based on the recommendations of peers from the community is in my opinion (and pretty much everyone who leads governance or knows about governance for any kind of association) the best practice.

Here are some thoughts from an excerpt of an article written by a governance expert, Mark Thorsby regarding nomcom process:

Today, successful associations are devoting increasing attention to ensuring that their governing boards comprise a diverse – yet unified in mission – group of talented volunteers. For the sake of their associations, it is vital that these committees be constituted and operated in ways that epitomize their chances for success.

Make-up of the NomCom: The committee should be composed primarily, if not exclusively, of current or recently retired board members because they are the only ones who really know what the board needs in terms of talent, governance culture and personal style. Some committees involve non-board members, but they often need to be taught what is required for board service, which can consume precious time. There’s a trade-off, of course, among “fresh air,” transparency and efficiency. The chief staff officer plays an integral role in advising the committee on such issues, as he or she often is the most knowledgeable about candidates.

The nominating committee establishes its criteria for the officers and/or directors it is seeking to nominate based on the “charge” – a defined, desired outcome – it receives from the board of directors. This charge usually defines the desired characteristics, perspectives, styles, values and experience of nominees, sometimes with an eye toward achieving a better balance according to certain factors involving age, geography, style, etc. It is not unusual for each candidate to be asked to complete a simple candidacy form that collects information for the nominating committee to use in vetting.

The object of the vetting process is to select nominees for an officer or director position who best suit the leadership needs of the association. The nominees are not always the best speakers from the community, or the most highly technical, but are the best team members given the leadership needs of the group. This can be a very difficult process because the nominating committee has multiple factors to consider. The best advice is to take time and get it right.

It is important that each nominee understands what is expected of him or her and why the nominating committee believes they are the right fit.

  • Past experience is not a predictor of future performance – particularly if that experience has been service on committees. Governance is very different from management.
  • Name recognition, professional status and reputation do not always make for a good governing board member.
  • Diversity and balance are key attributes of a successful governing board. Achieving both is the responsibility of the nominating committee.
  • It is a myth that a position on the governing board is something that is earned. It is the association that is honored by the member who is willing to serve.

In a nutshell, the role of the nomcom is not an easy one. I have seen it be met under fire before. In the end, I think trusting your fellow members who gave of their time and effort, and followed a well constructed procedure of selecting a critical set of thought leaders for your association is the most important. Remember – these individuals are also offering their personal time – no bonus check heading their way…..I would echo comments made that the community respect their opinions and the process that PASS has put forward is a solid one that not only is fair, but ensures that PASS board selection is not just about “popularity.”

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