As many of us know, it’s not always easy to find new board members, and it takes time and money to onboard new people. This makes it crucial to get new members up to speed as quickly as possible. Here are six things every new board member should have on day one of service:
Governance Documents: These are most commonly compiled into "the board book," a loose-leaf or digital notebook containing all of the basic governance documents. Hardcopy notebooks are okay, but digital documents are better. Post everything online using a secure portal on your organization's website, a dedicated commercial service like the BoardSource Virtual Boardroom, or simple file-sharing applications like Google Drive®, Dropbox®, or Evernote®.
A Mentor: Have the board chair or governance committee assign each new member his or her own peer mentor. The best mentors are current members who have been on the board long enough to know how the board operates, but not so long as to have forgotten what it is like to be new. Over the course of the year, the mentor is the person that the new member contacts when he or she has questions. More important, the mentor takes the initiative to call the new member two or three times during the year just to check in.
Meeting Schedules: Make it easy for new members to calendar board meetings. A paper schedule is fine, but using Google Calendar®, Outlook®, or Doodle® can make it easier on everyone to set meetings and make changes.
Communication Plan: What is the emergency response plan? Who on the board or in the organization should the new member contact when someone he or she knows expresses interest in learning more about the organization? Should board members pass volunteer prospects directly to staff or through the CEO? How does a member send notice that he or she cannot attend a meeting? New board members need to know how people communicate within the board and organization. Make sure you provide that information as well as an organization chart and contact information.
Introduction to the CEO: Every new member should have an introductory conversation with the CEO soon after joining the board. This can be done individually or as a group of all new directors, with the mentor(s) present. The content of the conversation is not as important as the chance for new members and the CEO to become more familiar with each other before tending to board business.
Board Member Handbook: The board member handbook serves as a quick-reference guide to all the basic information that a new member needs — or tells him or her where to find it. It can be on paper, but is perhaps more useful as a digital PDF document with live hotlinks to key resources and shared files.
A final word – easy. Make it easy for your board and leadership staff to update information the board needs. Make it easy for new board members to access the information and put it to use. Make it easy for people to talk with each other and to ask questions. Make it easy for your new members to provide exceptional service to the board, to the organization, and to the wider community.
What provisions do you provide your new board members for day one of service?
Cyrus White will be presenting a session on this topic at BLF 2013. Learn more here.