We have worked with nonprofit Boards from the nonprofit management side, and from the Board member side, and one of the most often overlooked element of volunteer leadership is the Board orientation and training! Nonprofits seem to expect that because a Board member joins their organization, they will know all they need to about the organization and how they’re expected to contribute. Conversely, many individuals join Boards and don’t realize that this is a position with responsibilities just like any other paid position. Board members, even those with business experience and/or who have sat on several Boards, may never have received any training and accordingly, may be experiencing one unpleasant or unsatisfying Board experience after another! From the nonprofit, the following are a few suggestions to enrich the Board experience for both you and your Board members:
- Identify a point of contact that they can call for anything. This role can be anyone in the organization, but its most helpful if its someone that is in know about a variety of things, including any private matters the organization may be dealing with. Generally, expecting that the CEO be on call for all Board members is unrealistic, and also not a good use of time. Many of the calls will be logistical, rechecking meeting times, or finding out if conference calling is available for the next meeting. This is an appropriate role for the Development Director or even the CEO’s Assistant – both of whom will know how to manage and grow the relationship on behalf of the organization.
- Provide them with a list of speaking points. The more you can empower your community representatives to speak to your issue, solution, or programs, the better. If your Board members don’t feel comfortable giving the 30 second elevator pitch, they won’t. One nonprofit we’ve worked with has actually done a few simulations at a Board meeting, and another put the more seasoned Board members on the spot to demonstrate their best speaking points to new Board members. Our favorite way to provide speaking points to Board members? Laminate them on a business card. It forces the nonprofit to provide concise speaking points because of its size and surprisingly ends up in a lot of Board member’s wallets.
- Draft a position description for your Board positions and committees. This is one of the first things we ask of nonprofits when they’re looking for strategic or operational guidance. If your Board members don’t know what they’re being charged with, how can they successfully execute? Ask a few colleagues for their Board position description to get started (or call us), and put together a first draft. Then share this with your Board executive committee who will be able to provide the buy in you need before presenting to the full Board. The position description should not be surprising to any of your Board members, and should not be unduly burdensome. It generally will cover the expectation that they share their resources (including the financial commitment, if any), time at Board meetings and possibly other events, and their network as a representative of your nonprofit.
- Insist on a Board Orientation for each new Board member, and annual Board retraining. Board orientations don’t have to be boring and time consuming. Since most nonprofits take on new Board members one at a time, they can actually just be a coffee meeting where the nonprofit executive goes through the Board Book. This is a great way for a development staff member to build a relationship with the Board member and to hear any concerns the new Board member may have. Similarly, Board retraining doesn’t have to be tired and drawn out. They should be focused on reminding the Board about the mission, and then using that inspiration to give some of the financials and administrative background to fill in the picture.
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