When it comes to joining a nonprofit board, there’s usually a pretty steep learning curve. Every organization has its own quirks and operational processes, so even if a new board member has previous experience serving other nonprofits, they’ve never served your nonprofit.
Without guidance and ample training, new board members may struggle through the adjustment period, or worse, they may never find their footing and wind up leaving before the conclusion of their terms.
A new year gives you the opportunity to re-evaluate your board experience and ensure you’re taking every step necessary to set members up for success from the start. Whether your training is formal or more relaxed, it should provide everything new board members need to know to effectively serve your organization.
Comprehensive training sets a positive tone for a member’s term and enables them to become engaged in their work right away. Not to mention, this contributes significantly to your board’s professional development as a whole. It ensures everyone is on the same page so that members can collaborate toward achieving goals and making strategic progress rather than slow down organizational growth.
To help you start their terms off on the right foot and encourage continuous development, we’ll review a handful of training best practices that your nonprofit can easily implement, including:
- Review board member responsibilities.
- Share helpful documentation.
- Offer insightful training courses.
Your board members are the true changemakers at your organization. Ready to set them up for successful terms with exceptional training? Let’s dive in!
1. Review board member responsibilities.
You can’t expect board members to live up to expectations if they don’t even know what those expectations are. Starting preparation off on the right foot means thoroughly reviewing responsibilities, both for general board members and for specific leadership roles. Typically, this is done as part of the onboarding process, but you should also review duties on an annual basis with returning members.
According to Boardable’s guide to board member responsibilities, there are several core responsibilities that any nonprofit board member should fulfill. A few common duties include coming prepared to meetings, offering their skills to advance the organization’s mission, and recruiting standout members. While there are countless others, all responsibilities are typically divided into three categories across many nonprofit boards:
- Duty of Care: Members should be committed to fulfilling their roles and assisting the organization to the best of their abilities. In other words, they should actively participate, practice open communication, follow through on assignments, and support program initiatives.
- Duty of Loyalty: This responsibility means that all activities and decisions should be completed in the best interest of the organization, not the individual board member. Those who exemplify this duty fully embrace your mission.
- Duty of Obedience: While board members should do everything in their power to drive the organization’s mission forward, they still must follow your organization’s guidelines. These guidelines are found in your governance documents, and a board that strays from these rules can steer your organization in the wrong direction.
While each board member is expected to adhere to these duties, leadership holds a higher level of responsibility. For instance, on top of the core expectations listed above, the chairperson oversees board meetings, helps appoint committee members, and makes high-level strategic decisions with the board that align with the nonprofit’s mission. As another example, the secretary schedules meetings, records and distributes meeting minutes, and assures that all documents are filed and accessible.
In addition to these duties, members will have individual roles that depend on your organization’s unique needs. By clearly stating who’s responsible for what, each of your board members can take the steps necessary to lead your organization toward a sustainable future.
2. Share helpful documentation.
As part of the onboarding process, board leadership should provide sufficient resources to catch everyone up on the organization’s history, processes, and mission. Not to mention, sharing the proper resources can help more experienced members fulfill their tasks as well.
When bringing on new board members, consider putting together a welcome packet complete with helpful documents. Documents are always part of an effective training experience, and a welcome packet will ensure they receive these in an organized fashion that doesn’t overwhelm them.
According to this guide to welcoming new board members, there are several documents you should share during onboarding, including:
- History one-pager: This covers your organization’s history and mission in-depth. It provides context and helps them fully understand your work.
- Roles and responsibilities: This reviews what duties are assigned to which roles. Including this enables members to quickly revisit expectations at any point.
- Organization bylaws: A copy of your bylaws helps members understand the decision-making hierarchy and what they can (and can’t) do.
- Financial data: Include financial data such as your annual budget and any recent financial audit results. Knowing where your organization stands financially can inform members’ decisions and is a crucial responsibility of the board.
- List of current leadership and board members: This page should include a brief bio, a photo, and contact information for leadership and current board members.
- A calendar: This lists any upcoming board meetings and events. Sharing this upfront allows members to mark their calendars and adjust their schedules accordingly.
- A list of committees and their charges: This names each committee and its correlated responsibilities. Be sure to also include committee members’ names.
Pro tip: A board portal with document sharing capabilities will allow you to consolidate all essential documents into one convenient location. That way, your team doesn’t have to deal with reams of paper that just take up space or keep track of multiple email attachments.
3. Offer insightful training courses.
One of the best parts of nonprofit boards is inclusivity. Anyone can volunteer to serve so long as they have a passion for the cause, but this doesn’t mean these individuals always have the skills to fulfill expectations. To be resilient and effective leaders, board members must invest time in improving their abilities and growing their knowledge of effective governance. That’s where training courses come in.
Training courses—particularly those that are online—are a convenient way for new members to get up and running and for veteran members to continue advancing their skills.
As covered in DonorSearch’s virtual training resources guide, virtual training courses were popular long before the shift to working from home due to their many advantages. While in-person training is certainly engaging, it can be extremely inconvenient and inaccessible. Compared to face-to-face training, online courses tend to be low-cost or free, so you don’t have to worry about purchasing physical resources either.
Professionally-developed online courses tend to be high-quality and offer a high level of education and training, which is a vital part of any board’s development. Making use of these courses can help members become true assets to your mission. Not to mention, offering such opportunities can contribute tremendously to board engagement.
Whether board members need help mastering governance practices or your executive director wants to strengthen teamwork, there are plenty of training opportunities available.
For inspiration, check out this Nonprofit.Courses page that presents specific content aimed at training board members at any nonprofit, from grassroots organizations to international NGOs. These courses are created by professionals in the field, which means you can easily provide an enriching experience with specialized expertise.
Your nonprofit expects so much from its board members. In turn, you need to thoughtfully prepare them for the hard work ahead of them, and that starts the moment they walk into the boardroom for the first time. Investing time and resources into training your board members is a key component of growth.
Whether your board is full of returning members or brand new faces, you’re never past the need for training. By sufficiently preparing these individuals, you’ll empower board members to effectively complete their tasks and overcome any obstacles thrown their way. In turn, they’ll be well-equipped to serve as committed ambassadors and advocate for your mission for years to come.
This was a guest post contributed by Jebb Banner of Boardable.
Jeb is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software provider. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.