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Part II: Onboard Your Board

We love helping nonprofits find new team members, and we’re thrilled when these organizations go out of their way to welcome the newbies and prepare them for success. For staff and board volunteers alike, this means engaging in “onboarding” activities to provide key information and cultivate important relationships that support the mission.

This week we’ll review some important tips for preparing new board members for their roles. If you missed last week’s post with tips for acclimating new employees, you can read it here – Part I: Onboard Your Employees.

Part II: Onboard Your Board

There can be an energy and excitement when adding new people to your board of directors. New skills! Fresh eyes! Eagerness and idealism!

However, their eagerness and skills might not be fully utilized if their orientation and training as a board member falls short.

How many of us have served on a board and not been entirely comfortable articulating its mission or programs?

How many of us have served with people who didn’t know the extent of their commitment, skipping meetings and obligations simply because they were unaware of what was expected of them?

Here are a few key practices to prepare your board members to be successful from day one:

  • Set expectations early, clearly and in writing. There is comfort in knowing what is expected, so provide new board members with written job descriptions. If your organization conducts a board self-evaluation each year, share that document as well. The idea is to provide tools to help shape and encourage participation before performance and accountability become a problem.
  • Proactively orient members to your mission. We’ve heard from some organizations that “the first year on the board doesn’t count” because it’s spent learning the intricacies of the organization and its mission. Wouldn’t it be great if a board member was prepared to share an informed opinion in their first month of service? The Governance Committee can help educate new board members on the mission and its practical application in the community by creating an orientation to the board. This could be a welcome packet and presentation before a board meeting or another format that makes sense for your organization. You’ll want to include everything that will help a board member learn about your organization inside-and-out as quickly as possible, such as:
    • The organization’s mission and vision statements
    • A snapshot of your organization (Who does it serve? What’s the geographic footprint? What programs and services does it provide?)
    • A organizational chart listing staff and board members by department or committee
    • The organization’s strategic plan and fundraising strategy
      • Inform new board members about any current or upcoming major fundraising events such as a capital campaign, charity auction, or gala.
    • The board member’s role and responsibilities (including fiduciary and fundraising)
    • The board’s committee structure and committee charters
    • A blank copy of your board member self-evaluation tool
    • Your organization’s legal documents, such as the board bylaws and policies (code of ethics, confidentiality, conflict of interest, gift acceptance, whistleblower, gift acknowledgement/donor recognition, document retention and destruction)
    • Recent financial statements (and instructions on how to read them!)

In addition to these written materials, you’ll want to provide a tour of your facilities and perhaps even a site visit where services are being provided.

  • Keep the information flowing. Orientation should be ongoing! Share regular updates about the organization’s successes, challenges and needs. Encourage board members to share feedback from the community as well as news from the sector. Everyone benefits and connections are strengthened through open lines of communication.
  • Create personal relationships that benefit the organization. Productive working relationships are based on understanding and respect. Provide opportunities for members to get to know each other on a personal level and your organization will be rewarded with some new friends and great group cohesion when making difficult decisions about its direction.
  • Provide mentors. Set up a mentoring system that matches “veteran” board members with less experienced ones. Having a familiar face who can answer questions or serve as a sounding board will make new members more comfortable and better informed – keys to successful board service.

Every board member has skills and perspective to offer your organization. Great board members know how to put that potential to work. 

For more information about onboarding – for employees or board members – please contact us at

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