The assumption that you can sit a group of people around a table and they will then automatically become a highly effective governing body is disappearing. There is increasing discussion about how to create a culture that 'grows' good governance, and some organisations are now beginning to develop structured systems and approaches to ensure their governing bodies are 'fit for purpose'. 

This article focuses on how to create a competent and effective governing body, by focusing on getting the right people as governing body members.

It is very helpful to adopt a long-term view of the skills, experience and commitment necessary...

Some organisations have a governing body with as few as two members. However, it is usually preferable to have a larger group. Eight to twelve members is appropriate in most cases,
although there may be a legitimate reason to have a larger body (for example, in terms of diversity and stakeholder representation). The group should not be so large as to make it
unwieldy, however.
In general, any adult can join a governing body. However, some governing documents specify that eligible members may need to fulfil specific criteria, such as living in a particular area. Sometimes membership of the governing body is only open to those individuals who are members of the organisation; in other instances, the net may be cast wider.
Certain people are not eligible to join the governing board by virtue of criteria
such as having been convicted of criminal offences, having been declared bankrupt or being of unsound mind. If such a situation occurs whilst they are serving on a governing body, they
may not be eligible to remain on the governing body. It is important to review eligibility criteria for board membership regularly and ensure it changes as the organisations develops.
Succession planning
The governing body will, and should, change over time with some people leaving and new members joining. Some governing documents specify how long governing body members can be in place. Renewal is vital as changeover prevents the organisation from going stale. It provides a healthy process for fresh ideas, new skills, and outside energy to come in.
It also allows existing governing body members the opportunity to move on to other challenges.
The plan for the exit and succession of governing body members should allow:
  • Time and opportunity to go through a process of recruitment and selection
  • Time to circulate information to the stakeholders and the wider community that the organisation is seeking new people
  • Opportunity to get the best possible mixture of representation, skills, knowledge, attitudes and experience
  • Staggered replacement, to ensure a certain level of continuity.
Preparing for changes to the chairperson is particularly important. There need to be discussions on the process of phasing out the existing chairperson and the recruitment of a new one. Some organisations recruit their chairpersons from existing governing body members, possibly after having 'groomed' the vice chairperson for this role. Others seek to recruit a person who can bring specific skills and experience to the role. Each organisation's governing document should describe how a chairperson is put in place.
A major challenge for all organisations is how to recruit new people to the governing body. In recent years, there has been a greater emphasis on open and transparent recruitment practices, both for paid staff and volunteers, including governing body members. In part, this has been driven by the desire to ensure the involvement of a diverse range of people to reflect geographic or interest communities, users, and people with skills and knowledge relevant to the work that the organisation does. But there is also recognition that the governing body has a serious job to do, so that finding people by 'private invitation' or 'it's your turn' may not
be enough. 
Governing bodies should spend the same effort in attracting good members for the governing board as they do to finding the 'right' employees and volunteers (and remember that the vast majority of governing body members are volunteers too). The comings and goings of governing body members should therefore be planned, rather than left merely to chance.
It is very helpful to adopt a long-term view of the skills, experience and commitment necessary. The ways in which organisations go about recruiting new people depends, to some extent, on the governing document. People tend to become members of governing bodies in four
main ways:
  • Election through a members' voting process
  • Selection by members of the existing governing body
  • Co-option by members of the existing governing body, usually with members' ratification of the co-option at the following annual general meeting
  • Nomination by an external agency, such as a local authority or funding body.
The recruitment process may involve application or nomination forms, interviews or hustings, and taking up references. It is good practice for organisations to have a plan for the recruitment and selection of new governing body members. The process for recruiting new members should include:
  • Preparing a role description with a profile of the skills, abilities, experience or knowledge required
  • Preparing a pack of information for those who may be interested in seeking nomination or appointment that includes background information on the organisation, along with detailsof the vacancies (in addition, current governing body members should make themselves available to discuss joining with any potential recruits)
  • Deciding how information on the vacancies will be communicated (for example, members' mailing, volunteer centres, advertisements in local papers, posters circulated to key websites, and letters to key individuals who may be able to identify potential members)
  • Preparing for changes to the chairperson is particularly important.

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