Recruiting New Board Members – The Process

Our process

  1. Decide on criteria: Kingdom Rice can’t afford to have simply have “warm” bodies fill board seats. At minimum, any potential candidate has to resonate with our mission and vision, skills sets to push the mission forward, and a high emotional intelligence. Often but not always, the pool we draw from comes from clients we’ve served or journeyed with through the years, people who already have an experience with us. We also decided not to limit board members to our local area because we did not want geography to limit candidates. Yes, we give up the luxury of face-to-face, but given the pandemic and the fact that our mission is being accomplished nation and worldwide, we judged that the benefit of a bigger pool outweighs the cost. Other “unspoken” criteria includes someone who demonstrates people over programs and credentials, and someone who’s reconciled with both the good and bad from their past (family and culture of origin). So much of our story excavation work engages these dynamics, that a potential board member must carry these sensitivities. Our board knows a lot of qualified people, but we sense some have not reconciled their past to be in a “healed enough” space to help accomplish our mission on the highest level.
  2. Have applicants interact with the mission and vision: We accomplish that with this 3-section Google form. The results are processed then shared with all board members. You may look and even fill out the form without obligation.
  3. Interviews: After we review applications via Google Forms, we set up interviews with me then with either present or past board members. The latter gives space for the applicant to relate to the vision and mission without my bias; I also encourage the applicant to inquire about my strengths and quirks. I write more about this in a later section below.
  4. Visits to the field and board meeting: Granted, visits to the field are more difficult for non-local applicants. Yet, all of our non-local applicants have already experienced Kingdom Rice on the field, typically at a lecture, immersion, cohort, or retreat. For local applicants, as in the case of our newest board member Felicia Larson, they are invited to participate in local events. Felicia participated in an immersion held for national BIPOC leaders and also a training for IV staff. Times like that give space for both to see the other “in action,” how we relate to others, how we navigate moments, and what values surface. Visits to a board meeting give space to interact around conversation that shapes how our mission is expressed on the highest levels. A board visit also gives a window into chemistry, fit, and possible roles on the board.
  5. Faith letter: After conferring with the interviewer, and if everything else checks out, a letter with our letterhead invites the applicant to commit for a two-year minimum term. Most board members have served 4 years. The letter simply exercises the power of the signature to commit.
  6. Honor the new members: At minimum, I highlight them in our newsletters like I’ve done here, and I highlight them on the website too, as I’ve done here.

Altogether, the process was designed to give space for the applicant’s own process. I did not address looking up their references here. In practice, this happens organically. There’s not been an applicant where I did not have access to people we know in common. This provides accountability.

So those are the nuts and bolts. But there’s a lot more nuance to the process. In the few sections that follow, I highlight just a few of these nuances.

Recognize the Benefit of New Board Members:

I sometimes hear about people staying on boards for years and years, perhaps because they love the organization, or perhaps because of some ulterior motive, like simply wanting to exercise power and maintain control. Though there are benefits to both, I see greater benefit with the rhythm of board members retiring and new members coming in. The organization benefits greatly; having fresh eyes, voices, and perspectives applied to the same vision is huge, not to mention a whole new mix of gifts and talents and networks. As a result, from the perspective of organizational life-cycles, new board members can help keep the organization relevant, potent, and away from decline. The benefits of new board members also has profound effects on the director. Using myself as the example, serving with new board members provides me a healthy “reset” switch. It gives cause for reflection; I’m motivated not to make the same mistakes and to grow as a leader and influencer in ways I could not imagine before. With our board recruiting process, we’re making space for “retired” voices to bless the organization with their experience and we’re making space on the board for all the benefit that comes from having new voices that resonate with the vision and mission.

But the subject is more complex than I can articulate here; both new members and long-time members can bring threat to the mission. We need to assume some baseline factors, like not having “yes” people on the board, like leadership characterized by the pursuit of greater humility (e.g. being able to “lift the lid” as a part of the culture). An organizational leader also needs have enough emotional capacity and self-awareness to outpace the demand. I observe that last point violated quite often, which accounts for “pink elephant” and “sacred cow” members. Having preached in dozens of churches, I’m very well aware of the fact that “emotional intelligence” often isn’t ranked high on the “what’s important about our leaders” list (if at all) and that sometimes, patriarchal cultures that’s common in more traditional Asian church cultures doesn’t allow the church to adjust to changing times. Those dynamics lie well outside this post; I just wanted to name the fact that a fraction of churches and organizations won’t be able to access what I write here…and that’s not to say that those organizations haven’t brought blessing…possibly alongside brokenness. However, humble leadership that values growing emotional intelligence contexts will give the greatest benefit to new board members.

Make space for retired board members:

Sarah Akutagawa waves as she leads a Kingdom Rice immersion in Chinatown

Interacting with retired board members around our mission is a blessing. Some have occasionally continued serving in roles they had while on the board, but they do it now from a different perspective, sometimes with wider imaginations. This has been my experiences with former member Nate Lee. He served faithfully for four years, and since retiring, though he no longer helps develops some of the behind-the-scenes processes, has continued to serve in occasional teaching roles and has offered to meet with others. But more than that, we can now relate to each other in a different space that’s not tied to his role as a board member. He and I are imagining KR’s role in his own vision space for the people he pastors and inform that space with his board experience. Sarah Akutagawa is another retired board member that served four years. She too continues to occasionally teach for Kingdom Rice, most recently leading a Chinatown immersion (Though there are many Chinatown tours, I only know of a handful of people who could do it from a Kingdom perspective, and that handful includes Nate and Sarah). Andy Chu, another four year board member, will be retiring from the board once we round out the board with a few more voices. But he will continue serving on the financial team. Making space for former board members to participate and even lead are gestures of honor. These are just a few ways to continue giving voice to retired members and to allow them to use their experience to bless others.

Also, retired members have been helping interview prospective board members. This provides some degree of succession and accountability. Usually there is some relationship between the prospective board member and the interviewer. But sometimes, I purposely pair interviewer and interviewee in a way as to open up a kind of space that comes with ethnic and generational differences. For example, Nate Lee, a millennial, and serving in his first church was asked to interview Felicia Larson, a seasoned preacher (and mentor to preachers), ethnically black, and a grandmother. As I anticipated, they had a great conversation; with the right people, those kinds of pairings opens up beautiful conversation that otherwise would not happen between people with more in common. Put another way, those kinds of pairings actually make space for nuanced conversation regarding Kingdom Rice, since that’s the centerpiece of the conversation…as well as having space to talk about what it’s like to serve with me as director, both my strengths and my quirks! There are advantages to both kinds of interviews. Choosing which kind to set up was more a choice of what kind of experience I wanted the prospective member to have, and what would be most helpful to help them decide whether they should join the board or relate to Kingdom Rice in some other way.

Share your leadership quirks:

As part of the consultation process, I wrote several pages worth of my leadership quirks, and how they expressed themselves in my director role. The consultant also interviewed team members, my wife, and integrated those thoughts into about 1.5 pages of the whole report. That’s 1.5 pages worth of insights about my quirks as they pertain to how they effect accomplishing the mission. Every prospecting board member eventually gets a copy along with our bylaws. Fairly humbling…the board debrief meeting was a tough one. I saw myself reacting at times. The experience to me was like going to see a dentist, and you know it’s gonna be unsettling. But I would not want it any other way.

The role of the consultant is important. The consultant provides a third party to voice the experience of 3-4 years of dealing with broken pieces of my leadership. Every leader has quirks; if i can disclose them up front, especially as experienced by previous members, that’ll only help to navigate around them. OF course, the consultant’s report contains many areas of strength too; those strengths ought to be captured along with my quirks and presented to any new member who serves on the board.

I don’t require board members to give financially.

First, a bit about my credentials. Fundraising activities have accounted for a majority of my livelihood for almost 30 years. I’m also the author of the only circulating book about fundraising from a collectivist perspective.

That said, I don’t involve board members in fundraising nor do I expect them to give financially. A majority of websites I’ve found regarding “who to recruit to your board” voice an opposite sentiment, offering many reasons why it’s imperative for board members to give and furthermore, why the recruiting process should even work out how much they give before joining the board. Besides, how can board members claim to have any “skin” in the mission without saying it with their wallets? I could not disagree more.

I see the reasoning behind the majority sentiment that board members all need to financially contribute, but I’ve come across too many cases where making this a criteria would have disqualified some of Kingdom Rice’s most influential board members. In fact, I can think of cases where giving financially to Kingdom Rice would swing me towards disqualifying someone to serve on our board. Let me explain.

IThe majority sentiment that makes financial giving imperative for every board member makes a myriad of assumptions. For example, ’ve not read anywhere that a financial giving can have any negative relational consequences, as if financial giving decision are always made in isolation. I can think of examples where a board member has empowered their spouse to oversee the giving budget in a move towards greater marriage solidarity. In at least one case, this came at a direct cost to Kingdom Rice. But I would not want it any other way because to me, this rings of healthy empowerment and family trust building. Then there are cases where board members are going through transitions, HUGE transitions that destabilize finances that most take for granted. In those cases, I want to be a part of bringing stability, not increasing unstability. In other cases, giving to KR HELPS families in transition. One size really does not fit all; faithfulness expresses itself differently depending on context. That said, assuming a board member can budget to give may not be the most honoring to their circumstance.

In practice, the giving from our board members straddles the whole spectrum, from top tier giving to zero financial giving. Sometimes, it takes greater faith for someone on the board to not give. The Kingdom is full of these counter-intuitions. On a least a couple incidents, I recommend board members to have the faith NOT to give. Financial amount does not necessary correspond to the heart investment and engagement with the board. When board members give, they give freely of their own volition. If anything, they all see the profit-loss statements. They know our budget and they know where everything goes. Most donors only have the perspective of our monthly newsletters, and perhaps first-hand connections with our events. But our board has front-row seats. That awareness heightens anything they give.

It should be obvious I don’t employ “Gold status” or “platinum status” giving tiers. If anything, I occasionally highlight the widow, or the poor, or the family in ministry themselves who have made a financial commitment to Kingdom Rice. This one senior woman gives just $5/month, and she’s been one of our most faithful givers, and referrers too! It costs more time and money to administer that $5 check, but it’s worth it.

IF anything (we’ve not experienced this yet), top tier giving can lead to manipulation, and inappropriate use of power from a board seat. I’ve seen this in multiple non-profits both in and outside of evangelical institutions. Sometimes, the top givers become the elephants in the board meetings. Sometimes, top givers actually threaten the very mission of the non-board. I’m speaking third person here, but if you know my story, I’m NOT speaking hypothetically. I’ve lived all this and it’s why I am thoroughly unsatisfied with the lack of nuance with anyone who makes board financial giving imperative. In the seven years of KR, not one board member EVER questioned inappropriate ties between one’s giving and ones influence on the board.

At Kingdom Rice, what board members contribute weighs more heavily than what they’re able to give financially, much MUCH more.

There’s a lot more to be said, especially with the more nuanced parts of board recruiting. Overall, the process has been quite satisfying and being that the process is not binary, it opens up space for deeper conversation and working together to accomplish our mission, whether or not someone joins the board or not.