What’s the secret to finding people to lead your community organisation?

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Finding and recruiting new leaders for your community organisation needn’t be as hard as locating the elusive Easter Bunny.

This post briefly looks at how ‘community organisations’ (shorthand for the wide range of organisations that make up our vibrant sector – charities, voluntary organisations, faith groups, sports clubs, social enterprises…) can find and recruit new ‘leaders’ (e.g. trustees, committee members, directors, board members) to keep them diverse, relevant and strong in a changing climate.

Last Wednesday, Caroline, Eileen and I met with a few organisations looking to fill some gaps on their boards. Board members have a really crucial role in the development and success of any organisation, giving their time and expertise to make sure it has the plans, money and resources to operate into the future.

But leaders can be hard to find, so what can organisations do to improve their chances of finding the right person for them? Here are the common themes we discussed on Wednesday, perhaps they’ll help you with your search, or maybe you’d like to add some of your own hints and tips in the comments:

  • Understand what might put someone off becoming a leader of your organisation: Possibly the most important thing to do. If you can understand some of the misgivings that potential new leaders might have, you can start thinking of ways to overcome them. Things that could put people off could be: fear of being the newcomer to an established group; fear of not being welcomed; lack of information about the responsibilities and the organisation; concerns about liabilities; myths about benefits being affected; confidence.
  • Remember any legal requirements: Your governing document will probably tell you the minimum and maximum number of leaders you can have. It may also tell you how they can be appointed. Don’t forget that some people may be barred from being board members and if your organisation works with children and vulnerable adults, think about safeguarding too.
  • Understand why you need more leaders and make sure everyone is prepared to welcome new colleagues: Board members should be behind a recruitment drive and ready to welcome new people, ideas and perspectives. Some might feel threatened by this and it may affect group dynamics. Spend some time thinking about how you will welcome your new colleague and all work together.
  • Think about whether you need board members or more volunteers? We had a long discussion about the differences between leading the organisation (i.e. planning for the future, making sure the organisation stays legal, operates properly and has the money and resources to stay open) and doing the day-to-day work. For organisations with no staff, the distinction can get a bit muddy. Board meetings can get bogged down in small operational details and planning might not get done. Try to remember that volunteers can do tasks (such as writing newsletters, running activities, events, running social media etc.) without being a board member. You may well find more people are happy to volunteer for tasks like this. Who knows? They may develop from there and think about taking a more strategic role on the board as their confidence increases!
  • Find out what strengths you already have and where your gaps are: No-one wants a role they won’t enjoy. Take the opportunity to assess what you already have. You could think about all the tasks that have to be done and the skills, knowledge and experience they require. Do you have everything you need or are their gaps? If there are gaps, now you know what you’re looking for (remember, gaps can also be filled by training and practice).
  • Define what you’re looking for: New leaders will want to know what you’re looking for. Make sure you give people as much information as possible about what will be expected of them, what the role will involve, the commitment and the tasks. If people go in with their eyes open, they’ll be better prepared and more likely to stay with you!
  • Market your opportunities widely and make sure the marketing reflects what you’re seeking: Your own networks are great, but you can promote your opportunities more widely and you can also target more specifically. Think about the kind of person you’re after and where they’re likely to go, what they may read etc. and take your marketing to them. Remember, schools, children’s centres may have newsletters and noticeboards, libraries, supermarkets, GP and dental surgeries may also let you leave promotional material. Press releases, listings in directors such as Dudley’s Community Information DirectoryIVO, CharityJob, registering with our Volunteer Centre can be great ways of getting your opportunity out there more widely. You could throw open your doors and have an open day, perfect for showing the public the great things you do anyway.
  • Welcome and support your new recruit: We looked at ways to ease people into the role, such as giving people the chance to attend board meetings as observers before becoming an official board member. Also try to do an ‘induction pack’, a simple way of making sure the new board member has everything they need to get started, which could include a who’s who, your governing document (constitution etc.), your plan, recent newsletters and reports, a schedule of meetings, policies and procedures, role description, code of conduct. You could also offer training or further support to your new recruit, such as a mentor or buddy to help them feel at home.

What do you think? We covered a lot in a couple of hours but we might have missed something out. Feel free to tell us what’s worked well for you or what other ideas you have. Or, if you’re a Dudley organisation in need of support on this topic, feel free to contact us.

Finally, this session was part of a series of events we’re holding to encourage more people to become leaders of community organisations. The next two events are:

  • ‘Leading community organisations’ – for people interested in becoming committee members, trustees or directors of charities, voluntary groups or social enterprises but feel they want to learn more about what’s involved first. This session will be held on Wednesday 7th May, 6pm-8pm and repeated on Saturday 10th May, 10am-12noon. Both sessions will be held in Brierley Hill. To book a place, please visit the Eventbrite page.
  • Speedmatching event, which will bring together people interested in becoming leaders and community organisations looking for them. The event will be held on Saturday 7th June, 11am-3pm. Community organisations that would like to attend and promote their opportunities can register at the Eventbrite page. Individuals can just drop in throughout the say and see what’s on offer!

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