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Equip Your New Nonprofit Board Members to Be Effective on Day One

Posted by BoardSource on Sep 23, 2015 6:00:13 AM

sept-blog2By Cyrus N. (Russ) White, principal, The South Cabin Group LLC; board member, Grand Rapids (MN) Area Community Foundation

This post is one in a series written by individuals who are presenting at the 2015 BoardSource Leadership Forum, taking place on November 9 & 10, in New Orleans. We invite you to join us.

According to Leading with Intent: A National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices (BoardSource, 2015), average board size has dropped by more than 20 percent — from 19 directors to 15 — since 1994. As nonprofit boards become smaller, the impact of each board member grows. It's not always easy to find new 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 resources every new board member should have by the first day:

Governance Documents

These are most commonly compiled into "the board book.” Loose-leaf notebooks are okay, but PDFs are better. Post everything online using a secure portal on your organization's website, a commercial service like BoardMax, BoardEffect, or BoardDocs.com or simple file-sharing applications like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Evernote.

A Peer Mentor

Have the board chair or governance committee assign each new board member a peer mentor. The best mentors are current board members who have been on the board long enough to know how it operates, but haven’t forgotten what it is to be new.

“Peer mentors have been helpful when we got the pairings right. Those folks who have a mentor who checks in with them, especially during the first six months, helps them get ready for their first board meeting, and sits next to them at board meetings usually get better integrated. Those sound like no-brainers, but you would be amazed at the difference it makes in getting a new member functioning.” — Terry Stone, executive director at CenterLink

Meeting Schedules

Make it easy for new board members to calendar board meetings. 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 needs to know when the new board member meets someone who shows interest in what the organization is trying to do? Should the board pass volunteer prospects directly to staff or through the CEO? How does a board member send notice that she cannot attend a meeting?

Introduction to the CEO

Every new board member should have an introductory conversation with the CEO prior to joining the board. This can be done individually or as a group of new board members, with the mentor(s) present. The content of the conversation is not as important as the time for new members and the CEO to become more familiar with each other before tending to board business.

Clear Connection to the Nonprofit's Intended Results

Every new board member should know how he contributes to what the organization intends to accomplish. At the least, this requires the new member to know what the intended results are, and to have a board member job description that describes the responsibilities of each member. Have the mentor and the board chair take time to talk with new members about how their service on the board advances the organization's intended outcomes.

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 people to provide exceptional service to the board, to the organization, and to the wider community.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."



Topics: Board Best Practices, BoardSource Leadership Forum

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