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Board Member Lifecycle

Navigating the volunteer board member lifecycle for effective collaboration


At most mission-driven organizations, the board of directors is frequently in flux. A new member is learning the ropes. A seasoned member is approaching the end of a term. Or a member resigns, suddenly or predictably, for any number of reasons. All of these scenarios are part of the volunteer board member lifecycle.

No matter the current state of your board, leaders of mission-driven organizations can always find work to maintain or restore stability and ensure successful and productive collaboration. From director onboarding to departure, consider other organizations’ experiences:

  • Onboarding new directors to a 52-member board falls to the board administrator of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, a business advocacy organization in Harrisburg. The administrator championed new solutions for easing the honeymoon period.
  • At the Louisiana Restaurant Association, leaders also sought new strategies and tools to manage access to documents and data as board members ended their terms or resigned.

Whether around expected or surprise transitions, nonprofit leaders and administrators can make the board service lifecycle smoother. Consider the challenges your organization may face and how the right strategies can ease periods of both transition and stability.

Challenges faced in board member lifecycle management

No matter your role in working with the board, and no matter the size or mission of your organization, these issues likely sound familiar.

Recruitment of diverse and skilled members

Successful recruitment is a huge endeavor, and many organizations are focused on increasing diversity in many ways, including demographics, experience, networking potential and skill sets. Because many of these issues are sensitive, having honest conversations around board composition can be difficult.

Orientation, training and development

Nonprofit staff must develop efficient, standardized materials for onboarding and continuing education — an effort that takes time, which is a scarce resource in many organizations.

Engagement and retention

Attracting new board members is work, but nonprofits also must keep them engaged once they’re on board. A settled-in board member needs a different type of attention and support, but these are often deprioritized.

Board dynamics and leadership

Conflict is a natural occurrence, especially when board members have passionate but different ideas around mission-driven work. The loudest voice in the room is not necessarily the best one in every discussion.

Succession planning

More than just filling board positions, succession planning includes tracking departing institutional knowledge and other potential gaps. Many organizations say goodbye to seasoned members without realizing how much history is departing with them.

Time and resource constraints

Nonprofits need proven solutions to their needs, as most don’t have spare time and budget to experiment with untested technology.

Benefits of using board management software for managing the lifecycle

The Louisiana Restaurant Association and Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry both discovered how implementing the right technology — specifically a modern board management solution — could help overcome their challenges and simplify lifecycle work:

  • Streamline onboarding and offboarding. New board members need personalized care, but nonprofit staff should also ensure their time is used wisely. By using board management software to present standardized training and onboarding tasks, nonprofits can smooth directors’ initial experiences and optimize training. (Everboarding focuses on continuous training and growth for board members.) Storing key documents in your resource library helps new members get up to speed quickly and supports existing members as they upskill on new topics. Surveys and polls can help audit skills and conduct exit surveys, offering guidance for new opportunities for or enhancements to the board.
  • Increase engagement and retention. Getting board members off to a good start pays dividends in increased engagement and retention as well. An experienced board member’s self-sufficiency is rewarded by providing technology solutions that allow them to work independently and collaborate easily as needed. Regular communication and collaboration on projects through board management software can also engage board members and make them feel an active part of the mission.

In environments where every resource is precious, efficiency is a continuous pursuit. With a good board management platform, nonprofits can:

  • Realize increased productivity. The best technology tools simplify work and save time. Board management software is particularly designed to save volunteer board members time and help them be better prepared for meetings.
  • Streamline meeting management. Building agendas, collecting documents, scheduling meetings and managing RSVPs, generating minutes — these are just a few of the tasks shared in holding successful meetings. All of these and more are made easier with modern board management tools.
  • Reduce administrative burden. The people responsible for board management often are the most in-demand because of their organizational skills, and they often don’t have enough hours in the day. By removing some repetitive tasks and automating others with a modern board management solution, these individuals can devote their time where it is more useful.

The end result is effective board work, where directors and staff can:

  • Improve communication and information sharing. With smart permissions management and built-in communications tools, the entire team can have the right access to materials and information.
  • Enhance strategic planning and evaluation. A board management tool can serve as a hub for strategic plan work, including progress reporting, collaboration features and workrooms for your strategic planning committee or group.
  • Strengthen transparency and accountability. Whether answering to foundations, government programs, donors, volunteers or others, boards need easy ways to track their contributions and how the board’s actions support the organization’s work. By making this information available in the board management tool and assigning appropriate permissions, the right people can access the materials when needed.

“At first, there was resistance from board members due to different levels of technology skills. But now, neither the directors, staff, nor I can imagine providing and accessing materials any other way.” Debbi Beaver, Board Executive Assistant, Memorial Health System

Getting started with using your board management software for lifecycle management

Nonprofits can start taking the steps now to ensure the most successful implementation and use of the new solution.

Assemble your team

Creating buy-in and enthusiasm around a new solution is key to its acceptance. Consider the best representative members of your organization to serve as information sources and champions. Your board administrator will be particularly helpful in the project, but also look to current board members, an IT stakeholder, support staff and others.

Evaluate current onboarding and offboarding processes

Onboarding and offboarding are key areas where modern board management software excels. To prepare for the transition, gather materials currently used in these processes: checklists, manuals, policy documents, video links, etc. Documents can be stored easily in BoardEffect, and other materials can be made available with links. Surveying in the software can capture exit interview information such as observations, project status, contact information and other helpful data.

Conduct a board makeup assessment

The board management tool is the perfect place to capture all the data about your current board members: demographics, experience, skills, industry knowledge and more. As a result, it’s the right tool to identify gaps and begin planning the strategy to fill them. With built-in surveying and director profiles with customer fields, BoardEffect helps gather the information you need about your existing board, and progress reports and other supporting documentation are easy to store and access.

Develop an initial security strategy

One of the great benefits of modern board management software is the ability to grant and restrict granular permissions to documents, teams, workflows, meetings and more. Begin building a strategy for your organization that covers onboarding and offboarding, workroom access and other permissions for your various contributors. Managing security and keeping on top of who has access to what as they onboarding, join workrooms, leave the organization etc. using the granular permissions and workroom features.

Tips for administrators

Administrators, governance professionals and others specifically responsible for board management are in a particular spot to benefit from increased efficiencies. To most effectively reap the benefits of a board management tool, administrators can focus on these areas that will best support the various stages of your member lifecycles first.

  • Build the document library. The board management tool can serve as a single source of truth for both current and historical documents. Folders in the system can be used to store different groups of key documents, expediting onboarding, new training requirements, offboarding and other steps.
  • Set up document-sharing protocols and permissions. Any role at the organization can benefit from access to the searchable document repository. Decide on the initial set of permissions to be assigned and then as the organization’s needs change or board members leave, these can be easily altered.
  • Tailor workflows. Various tasks, including policy development and other collaboration-and-approval-based work, can be structured inside the board management tool. With collaborative revisions, automated notifications and electronic approvals, boards can operate with a minimum of paper and no unnecessary duplication of effort.
  • Foster adoption and engagement. Directors and others can access the board management software on any device, on their own schedules. With built-in communications tools and workrooms, contributors can be in easy contact with each other. Dashboards and automated notifications help every participant understand where to direct their attention.
  • Set expectations and streamline communication with board members. In the Pennsylvania Chamber example, board members were trained to expect two emails around every meeting — the first being an RSVP request and the second being the digital board book. By adding accountability to the process, the organization now has a 90-95% success rate with RSVPs.

Tips for charities and nonprofits for choosing a board management software partner

  • Evaluate the partner’s experience with nonprofits. You’ll want a partner who can help your organization realize the potential of the software. Your organization likely has needs that are different from a similar-sized corporation, and an experienced partner can consider those to tailor your implementation plan.
  • Find a partner who can help develop buy-in with all stakeholders. Getting stakeholders on board is not a solo effort. By bringing experience with and a strong business case to show how the software will help board administrators, directors, key staff and others, the right partner will ease the transition to the new tool.
  • Look for an emphasis on security. Governance technology is a key factor in protecting your organization’s sensitive data. Look for a partner with a proven history in developing secure tools for nonprofit organizations and their sensitive data.

Taking time to examine how you approach and manage the board member lifecycle will enable you to better manage board changes and enthuse your volunteer board members. By adopting and implementing a modern board management solution, organizations can make every step of their directors’ service efficient, effective and rewarding.

At Diligent, we support nonprofits and their boards with technology solutions that follow the entire volunteer board member lifecycle. After all, flux happens, but BoardEffect is designed with the features, functionality and security your organization needs to steer through periods of transition and stability. Let us know how we can help you.

Jennifer Rose Hale

Jennifer Rose Hale has over 20 years' experience with digital and employee communications in for- and nonprofit environments. Her writing and client areas of expertise include education, finance, science and technology.

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