Board perpetuation is a key task for directors, and actively pursuing it throughout the year (and every year) creates a powerful influence in the quality of board work. The first step is having a strong list of potential candidates before the election cycle. There are a variety of components to building a candidate pool, from board to member communications (newsletter articles, social media, email, store signage, etc.) to personal invitations. In fact, the number one reason why someone runs for the board is because somebody asked! Candidates will learn a lot about being a director by talking with directors and attending board meetings before submitting their application, but the candidate packet can be pivotal for making an informed decision.
Rarely does a person run for the board thinking, ‘Gee, I want to uphold a fiduciary responsibility that includes cooperative goals with business acumen.’ They usually become candidates because they care about their co-op and have a desire to deepen their relationship with it. That’s great! In fairness to them and the co-op, it’s our job to provide an accurate picture of the responsibility and commitment necessary for being a director. While the packet doesn’t replace conversations and an interview, it can readily convey the essence of the board’s role and the expectations for individual directors.
The goal of your packet is to provide enough information for potential candidates to have a sense of what’s expected as well as provide the basics such as the election timeline and application. The lens of the Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance can help you cover the bases while conveying core governance concepts. The Four Pillars are Democracy, Accountable Empowerment, Teaming, and Strategic Leadership.
Democracy is more than voting for your favorite candidates. Boards can deepen the democratic process within their co-op by recruiting candidates they believe can contribute to the health of the co-op, in other words, providing members with good choices when it’s time to vote. The candidate packet is a part of the democratic process when it provides a clear and inspiring picture of board service, and candidates can readily see the process for putting their hat into the ring.
Accountability and Empowerment are at the core of co-op governance, and even if they’ve served on other boards; co-op governance is unique because we are owned by and accountable to our member owners. Since much of the board’s responsibility is delegated to the general manager, explaining how the board sets its expectations and monitors the general manager’s work is fundamental to illustrating this particular governance role.
The pillar of Strategic Leadership is also important to convey. The board, through its empowerment by the membership, is the driver of the co-op’s vision. Outline the process the board undertakes for strategic leadership and how it includes the members and management.
The Teaming pillar is the place to expound on qualities desired in a director. Speak about your board culture and what you value, include traits such as openness to new ideas, respectful while disagreeing, contributing their fair share, and honoring the decisions of the board. Include the basic expectations of directors and how the board works, such as meeting schedule, preparation and time requirements, and overall commitment.
The board packet should help potential candidates understand the big picture and build perspective on the job. It will clarify expectations about what the board does (and doesn’t do). The packet will cover 3 broad categories: what the co-op does, what the board does, and what an individual director does including:
- Nominations and elections process, timeline, and candidate instructions
- Eligibility and expectations
- Board role, structure and process
- Fiduciary responsibilities and protections
- Director qualifications and required commitment
- Candidate application and checklist
- Code of conduct
- Candidate conflict of interest statement and disclosure form
- Meeting and retreat schedule
- Overall meeting preparation and time commitment
- The co-op’s vision, history and major impacts (a recent annual report might include all this)
As you prepare the contents to fill in the outline, think back to when you first ran for the board. What do you know now that you wish you’d known then? Jot down those thoughts and incorporate them into the appropriate section. What’s obvious to you now was probably a mystery when you sat at your first board meeting. What do you know now that you could explain and give a candidate a leg-up? You’re probably not the only one who had initial bewildering experiences, and what a gift it would be to provide more information early on.
As you pull the information together, consider the presentation. It’s hard to read paragraph after paragraph of dry information. Consider using graphics, photos, quotes of inspired past directors, and sidebars to help breakup all those words!
Producing a better candidate packet is part and parcel for strengthening board perpetuation. It’ll require thought and time to make the first one but after that it’s a matter of continuous improvements and yearly updates. Help your co-op be stronger, have some fun, and let your passion shine as you create the best candidate packet ever.
To jumpstart this project, visit our library for examples of comprehensive board packets.