If you’ve done a good job of recruiting new board members and succession planning, incoming board members will bring some degree of knowledge about governance practices with them. Regardless of how much board experience a board member has, it’s unrealistic to assume that anyone has a full and complete understanding of governance. Having noted that, even the most experienced board members should pursue board member education. The issue of board governance is continually evolving and there’s always something new to learn about it.
With the knowledge of how important board member education is, why is it that so many boards overlook it? Board member education often seems to fall to the back burner. Between meeting protocols, board reports, resolving problems, and strategizing for the future, board members typically have pretty full agendas during board meetings. While all of those things are certainly important, they don’t preclude the board’s responsibility for ensuring that all board members have the knowledge and leadership skills to responsibly run your organization.
Are you looking for a way to ensure that your board addresses board member education for every board member for the duration of their terms? Let’s get down to brass tacks with a look at 6 key steps to operationalize board member education.
6 Key Steps to Operationalize Board Member Education
Think of the following steps as a template for how to put the task of board member education into actionable steps. They’re easy to implement once you get buy-in from the full board and make a commitment to following through. Let’s start with step #1.
1. Establish a plan for board member education.
Have you plotted board member education into your SWOT process and strategic plan? If not, those are great places to start. It will force your board to review your board member education plan at least annually.
Board member education begins at orientation. The plan for board education can be formal or informal, there just needs to be one! Don’t go for a generic board member education plan. Customize your training according to the needs of the organization. Board member education can be as simple and easy as carving out 15 minutes or so during regular board meeting time for board member education.
2. Choose the right materials for board member training and education.
Set up some sort of outline or template of what the board wants to accomplish through board member education. You may want to set up a new policy for how often or how many hours board members should be spending on board education. For example, you may set a policy that requires or recommends board members to participate in one to two hours of board education training per quarter.
3. Assign a group or individual to be accountable for board member education.
You could decide to give the responsibility for board member education to one board member. Alternatively, you could set up a board member education committee to get the job done. The committee could be responsible for brainstorming the kinds of issues that are most important to your board’s work, identifying resources for board education opportunities, and tracking board member education. You might also choose a particular time of year to review the committee’s charter and progress.
4. Make board member education and extension of the recruitment process.
Your board member recruitment and succession planning processes should include assessing and documenting each new board member’s level of governance knowledge. As you document their knowledge upfront, it will be easier to target specific areas for board member education without concern over duplicating information they’ve already acquired.
5. Develop a list of resources for board member education.
Most board members find that there is no shortage of resources for board member education within their communities. The key here is to make it easy for your board members to take advantage of opportunities for governance and leadership education.
Ensure that the designated group or individual communicates the list of resources to your board and makes those resources available to them on an ongoing basis.
Local businesspeople such as accountants, lawyers, bankers, and private foundations are generally willing to make themselves available to teach your board members more about leadership and governance. They’re also usually more than happy to educate your board members about their specific area of expertise or profession. Typically, all you need to do is ask and schedule time for them on your board meeting agenda.
If you’re fortunate enough to have experienced board members on your board, why not tap into this resource and set up an internal mentoring process? You could also easily do this with a mentoring process between community professionals and your board members.
Another easy way to encourage your board members to receive board member education is to guide them to online articles or encourage them to register and attend governance workshops or seminars.
6. Identify top governance trends and topics.
Board member education training is more than just ensuring that board members are getting it. It’s also about educating them about the issues that affect all organizations as well as industry or niche-specific issues.
Here’s a list of topics to get your list started:
- Diversity and inclusion
- Changes in charitable giving
- Natural disasters and environmental issues
- The current global pandemic
- Remote working processes and tools
- Social, economic, and political issues
Train your board members that it’s everyone’s responsibility to be aware of the issues that affect your organization and encourage them to bring them to the board for discussion.
Board member education is just one of the many responsibilities that you’re board is responsible for overseeing.
With that in mind, BoardEffect is your best resource for securely sharing messages and files about board education topics. The BoardEffect board portal has a built-in survey tool that’s perfect for assessing your board’s knowledge of governance and other important topics. The survey tool is an excellent way to assess individual board member’s knowledge as well as your board’s knowledge as a whole.
The results of your assessment will give you a solid place to jump off with a board member education plan that will take your board member leadership from good to great.