The Quick Guide to Finding New Committee Members

Why find new committee members? What’s your motivation?

It can be useful to think for a minute about your motivation for starting the search for new blood. The reason for starting the search can influence how you go about it. Do you feel that there is a gap on the committee? Do the others share this view? Are you expecting vacancies as committee members finish their term of office? Are you seeking to change the make-up of the committee (make is younger/more female/bigger/smaller etc)? Finally, to repeat, do the others on the committee feel the same way?

What does your constitution say?

Read your constitution to check that you are familiar with what it says about recruiting new committee members. It may simply say that the existing committee elects ‘from time to time’ new committee members. This arrangement gives you the most freedom. On the other hand your constitution may be very prescriptive, specifying all sorts of criteria, such as; where committee members must live (an estate or village), or perhaps an election process (from member/local organisations). Make sure you read your constitution before proceeding.

Who can be on the committee (legal requirements)

Anyone can be on a committee provided that they are 18 or over, of sound mind and have not been convicted of an offence involving theft or dishonesty, not bankrupt (or legal equivalent), and not banned from being a trustee or company director. (Click here for the exact wording for company and a charity). Note that if you are a company but not a charity then you can have committee members younger than 18 and if you are an unincorporated association then there are no restrictions on who can be on your committee.

Election, Selection or Invitation ?

By looking at your own motivation for looking for new blood and checking what your constitution says you should have a fair idea of which of these methods is available to you. With no constitutional restrictions it is often tempting to opt for ‘invitation’ as the best method. It is still the most popular method, but arguably results in predictable, clone, committees. The advantages are that there will be no surprises and the selection process remains in the hands of the current committee.

If your constitution requires an election then you will have to follow the process set out in the constitution. Note that this may be quite vague and it is generally a good idea to write up a more detailed description in supplementary ‘rules’ or ‘standing orders’.

Advertising is growing in popularity as a way of finding new committee members. Writing the advert can be a very good way of focusing on exactly what it is you want and what you expect of your new committee members. So its worth doing even if you don’t advertise. Think carefully about where you advertise; you may get results from advertising in your own newsletter or in another organisation’s newsletter. There are also some specific organisations that you can advertise with, ranging from local Volunteer Centres to professional associations that run bulletin boards for members to help them find volunteer opportunities.

At the minimum your advert should state:

  • Who you are and what you do
  • What role you are looking to fill
  • Any special duties or role for this vacancy
  • The time commitment per week required
  • The length of the commitment to the committee (i.e. 3 years)
  • The usual time, duration and venue of meetings.

Filling Specific Roles

If you need someone specific, such as a treasurer, then you should make it clear to prospective committee members from the start. You can greatly increase you chances of success by advertising with relevant professional associations such as the Charity Finance Directors Group if you are looking for a treasurer.

Decide on the Process

Once prospective committee members have made contact it is too late to decide on the next steps – do it now. Who should they contact, who will have the first informal chat on the telephone with them, who will meet them for a more considered discussion. Will they be invited to attend a committee meeting, or two, or three to get a feel for the organisation. Who will keep in touch with them between meetings to gauge their response. At what point will they be formally elected onto the committee? Decide all of this at an early stage or risk giving prospective committee members a poor impression.

Orientation

Induction

Traditionally, many committees have been poor at inducting new committee members and this is perhaps why most surveys find that committee members rarely feel that they have contributed anything useful in the first year. You will get more out of a new committee member if you create a comprehensive induction programme along the lines that you would give an employee, with meetings, briefings and information to read.

A useful, and easily assembled induction pack would contain; background to the organisation, (newsletters, minutes, past annual reports, Charity Commission and Companies House returns). An opportunity to observe some relevant activities or work of the committee.

An opportunity to talk to a cross section of committee members.

It can be enormously helpful if you identify a friendly individual on the committee who is willing to take phone calls or emails and generally provide a helping hand to the new recruit until he or she becomes established on the committee.

Under way

Make the most of meetings

The cardinal rule is to always prepare for meetings or those 2 hours will be wasted. Make sure that this is clear to your new recruit and make sure that the rest of the committee set a good example.

Specific roles on the committee

Unless you recruited your new committee to a specific role it is unfair to to try and railroad them into being secretary, or treasurer at their second meeting. They will probably resent it and most likely not return. Most people take a year or more to become productive on a committee, so resist the temptation to ask them to take on a specific role until they have been on the committee for at least six months. When the time comes for them to take on a specific role, make sure that the role and the commitment is clearly defined.

Stormy weather

What if we don’t succeed?

The basic process of finding a person tends to be the same whether its for a job, a committee role or even for a mate. There are a few strategies that you just have to repeat until you achieve success.

Not Fade Away

If your new committee members starts to fade away, get in touch and try to address the problem before it is too late. It may be that a bit of help and encouragement is all that is needed. Don’t let all the effort of recruitment go to waste for the sake of a few phone calls or emails.

Blending in

Some new committee members are keen to make an impression and this can sometimes seem rather confrontational. On the other hand some may feel quite intimidated and remain silent. Give the new committee members time to settle in before passing judgment on them.

A wrong decision

Occasionally a new committee member may prove to be a liability and not an asset. Try to make it clear to them what the problems are, give them a chance to respond and address the problems. On the other hand do not let a bad situation fester; the committee will soon suffer. Consult your constitution to see what it says about removing unwanted committee members. If necessary seek advice from a local support agency.

Disembarking

Fixed term trusteeships

If your constitution sets out a fixed term for committee members then the leaving date of each committee member may be fixed, though bear in mind that many such constitutions do give you the opportunity to serve for a second consecutive term.

When to leave

If your committee has no fixed term of office then the commitment expected should have been agreed at the start. As the date approaches the chair should discuss the exact departure date (i.e. at the AGM or the anniversary of joining) so that there is ample time to either find a replacement or publicise the forthcoming vacancy.

Leaving suddenly

Personal circumstances change and sometimes individuals may need to step down at short notice. Make it clear that the committee needs as much notice as possible and that the chair can always be approached if circumstances change.

Keeping in Touch

Many ex committee members like to keep in touch, if only sporadically. The chair should talk to each committee member on departure to find out what sort of level of contact they would like to maintain. For example, being kept on the mailing list for the newsletter, the AGM invitation list, or maybe volunteering for a special role – such as setting up a legacy fundraising campaign (we all live in hope!).

Further reading

Useful guides have been produced by:

Charity Trustee Networks

Charity Commission,

Governance Hub’s Trustee Recruitment Pocket Guide.

Charity Trustee Networks have a forum concerning recruitment where you can discuss recruitment issues with other trustees.

Further information is available on Governance Pages FAQ 10 and FAQ 11

NCVO have a Guide to Trustee Recruitment for Small Organisations.

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