Many nonprofit boards find that six to nine directors can be more effective than a board of fifteen or more. As boards become smaller, the impact of each director grows. It’s not always easy to find new directors, and it takes time to onboard new people. All of this makes it crucial to get new nonprofit board members up to speed as quickly as possible.
Here are seven resources every new board member should have by Day One:
These are most commonly compiled into “the board book,” a digital notebook containing all of the basic governance documents. Governance policies, by-laws, articles of incorporation, the minutes of recent meetings, and pertinent financial statements for the past two years. 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 BoardEffect or BoardDocs, or simple file-sharing applications like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Evernote.
The board chair or governance committee assigns each new director his or her own peer mentor. The best mentors are current directors who have been on the board long enough to know what’s what, but not so long as to be on their way out or unable to remember what it was to be new.
“[Peer mentors have] been helpful when we got the pairings right. Those folks who have a mentor that 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, former executive director at CenterLink
Make it easy for new directors to calendar board meetings. Provide a list of every scheduled board meeting for the first year, along with start times and locations, if you know them. A paper schedule is fine, but using Google Calendar, Outlook, or third-party apps like Doodle can make it easier for everyone to set meetings and make changes.
This combines the organization chart, contact information for board members, the CEO, and perhaps key staff and others. 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 director send notice that she cannot attend a meeting?
Clear Connection to the Nonprofit’s Intended Results
Every new director should know how he contributes to what the organization intends to accomplish. At the least, this requires the new director to know what the intended results are, and to have a board member job description that describes the responsibilities of each director. Both of these items should be part of the board’s governance policies. But that’s not enough. The mentor and the board chair should take the initiative to talk with new directors about how their service on the board advances the organization’s intended outcomes.
Introduction to the CEO
Every new director should have an introductory conversation with the CEO prior to joining the board. This can be done individually or as a group prospective directors, with the mentor(s) present. The content of the conversation is not as important as the time for new directors and the CEO to become more familiar with each other before tending to board business.
Board Member Handbook
A board member handbook serves as a quick-reference guide to all the basic information that a new director needs — or tells him where to find it. Publish it as a PDF for ready access online or by digital device.10-Minute Board Discussion
How well do we equip our new directors to be effective on Day One?
Image courtesy of iStockphoto.com/Yuri_Arcurs
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