Charlotte Jones, Chief Executive of ITC, outlines her views on board recruitment, and unveils a plan.
“Would you like to join our board? The buck stops with you. If we can’t pay our debts you could lose your house. We won’t be paying you any money, but we would expect you to raise funds to forward our work. The hours are unlimited – particularly long if we have a crisis,” – irresistible! Put another way: “Arts organisation seeks board members – fabulous professional development opportunity, excellent networking, raise your profile, add to your CV...”
So how do arts organisations successfully recruit people onto their boards? Advertising can be a great way to raise the profile of an organisation and attract the widest range of possible applicants. It can also be prohibitively expensive for a small organisation and will only be really effective if you can express clearly and inspiringly what you are offering and who you are looking for in just a few words.
Word of mouth recommendation is still one of the most commonly used methods of board recruitment. Its limitations are obvious (diversity being the first casualty!), but the perceived risk of inviting people to be ‘where the buck stops’ in your organisation often leads to this conservative choice.
For the past year, ITC (Independent Theatre Council) has been running a Board development scheme, GAIN, with four partner organisations – Arts Council (London), The Mayor’s Office (GLA), Sporting Equals, and Arts & Business. We sought to recruit high calibre Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic board members for arts and sports organisations. Over 100 people responded to our adverts in the Guardian and Ethnic Press and we selected 40 excellent participants for our professional development programme. Over 50% of the participants have already joined boards. Many participating organisations commented that GAIN enabled them to recruit more consciously and boldly and to see the true potential in their board for both individual professional development and company renewal.
Many organisations approach board recruitment from the very narrow perspective of filling ‘skills gaps’. “We can’t afford to employ an accountant or a lawyer so therefore we need one on the board” – dangerous folly! The board is essentially the ‘custodian of the values’ of the company. In order to fulfil this role the board members need to share and understand the values. Increasingly aware of this important board function, arts organisations have been approaching ITC and asking us to help them find arts practitioners to join their boards. Many artistic directors, general managers and CEOs have also approached us expressing an interest in joining a board – recognising how valuable it can be for their own professional development and wider connectedness in the sector.
So, the penny has dropped for ITC! We will establish an arts practitioners’ board bank bringing together the companies who seek board members and the individuals who are looking for professional development through board membership. We will provide relevant training and advice for potential board members and companies seeking board members (including recruitment, induction, conduct of meetings, effective communication and legal responsibilities) and a place on our website to share skills offers and skills needs.
Charlotte Jones is Chief Executive of ITC - the Independent Theatre Council.
This article is one of a series commissioned by GOLD (Governance Organisational & Leadership Development), which promotes governance within the arts and cultural sector, as part of the Cultural Leadership Programme. Join the discussions, use the resources and come to events.