The board of directors of a nonprofit organization is the ultimate governing body of the group. Individually and collectively, the board is responsible for financial oversight, providing leadership and direction, being transparent and accountable to its stakeholders, and protecting its legal liability.
It’s rare to discover a board member of a nonprofit that has strong expertise in all areas of board duties. Nearly every board member will benefit by developing knowledge in each of these areas.
Take a thoughtful approach to board development to make the most of your educational efforts. Here’s a quick look at the do’s and don’ts for the most common areas of training.
DO offer an orientation right after a board member is elected or appointed to the board.
DO an orientation for all board members, as soon as possible, even if you haven’t done them in the past. It’s never too late to do an orientation and a little review never hurt anyone.
DO establish a mentoring system so that newer members have an opportunity to gain board experience.
DON’T skip the orientation in the future. You’ll need your board members to get up to speed quickly.
Board Development Training
DO look for training opportunities in your community and encourage board members to attend.
DO encourage any board member that took a workshop to share what they learned with other board members.
DON’T treat board members with less experience as less important than veteran board members.
Evaluation of Board Members
DO make evaluations and self-evaluations a standard, annual practice.
DO require board members to evaluate themselves.
DON’T skip doing an overall evaluation of the organization’s strategic efforts.
Recruiting New Board Members
DO brainstorm on how to identify and recruit new board members.
DO make recruiting new talent an on-going, continual process.
DON’T leave recruiting and nominating until a board member’s term is due to expire.
DO bring in a guest speaker to teach the rest of the board more about bringing in grant money.
DO send at least one person for an in-depth workshop on grant writing.
DO require all board members to search for grant opportunities.
DON’T rely totally on fundraising efforts to support your non-profit. There’s a lot of free money out there. If you don’t claim if for your organization, another grant writer will be happy to claim it for theirs.
Understanding Financial Reports
DO train board members how to understand financial reports.
DO encourage board members to review the financial reports and ask questions.
DON’T forget to point out income and expenditures since the previous meeting. Making this a standard practice will likely spark interest and discussion regarding financial reports.
DO require every board member to take part in fundraising efforts as part of their training and board experience.
DO hold the expectation that board members will bring fundraising ideas to board meetings.
DON’T hold so many fundraisers that board members get tired of them. Try to hold at least one fundraiser that nets large funds.
DO spend a few minutes at every meeting learning about parliamentary procedure, which is also known as Robert’s Rules. Better yet, spend the better part of a meeting talking about it during a time when the agenda is on the lighter side.
DO give your board members time to practice making and seconding motions.
DO rotate board members into officer roles to help them gain experience.
DON’T allow one or two board members to monopolize making or seconding motions at every meeting. If they are silent, it forces less vocal board members to speak up.
DO teach board members the types of things that should be written into the minutes relative to their legal responsibilities. Minutes should consist of the actions taken or information given on agenda items.
DO encourage board members to become familiar with the organization’s liability insurance policy.
DON’T assume that the board is not legally responsible for a legal matter that was referred to the board.
DO discuss problems that arise and allow adequate time for problem solving.
DO inform board members on where they can find resources or policies, other than the bylaws, to help them seek and offer solutions.
DO use problems as opportunities for teaching board members how to address them.
DON’T avoid problems or uncomfortable situations, hoping they will resolve on their own. Work collaboratively as a board to approach them professionally and responsibly.
In conclusion, DON’T use this as a comprehensive list for putting together a plan for board development. DO use it as starting point. Your organization may have unique needs because of its mission. DO check with your local United Way and with other volunteer organizations that will not only train your board members, but also match trainees with the types of board they want to work with.