What does a new board member need to know before joining your board?

May 19, 2015

Many nonprofits have calendar years that start July 1. That means that you might have some new board members who will be joining the board in a few short weeks.

Let’s start this year off right and get your board members up to speed before their first meeting.

You should email your new board members with useful documents to help them understand both the organization and their role as board members.

Here are some ideas to get you started as you assemble documents for your next group of board members.

Organizational documents
  • A copy of the mission statement
  • Any planning docs, vision statements, or other “big picture” documents that might help a new board member understand the organization and its direction better.
  • Policies and bylaws (I wouldn’t expect a board member to review all of this before joining, but they should have them before they start.)
Practical documents
  • Dates of all upcoming scheduled meetings
  • The “MOU” (Memorandum of Understanding) of board member expectations, if it exists
  • Agenda and minutes of most recent meeting (so a board member can catch up on the most recent business discussed, and see the formats of these documents)
  • A roster of board members and staff with contact information
Financial Documents
  • Annual Budget
  • The most recent P&L/Balance Sheet or other financial docs regularly presented to the board (so a new board member can ask questions and get a preview of what they will receive as a board member)

That’s a pretty comprehensive list of documents. But you likely have everything somewhere, it’s just a matter of assembling these documents and emailing them to the new board members.

The few minutes that it takes you to do it is crucial for giving a new board member a solid understanding of what they need to know about the board.

The packet should be followed by a meeting or a conference call with the new members. Ideally, this will be at least a couple of weeks before the first meeting. If you and the board president (or—more appropriately—the president elect, since that person will likely be president with the new members) spend 90 minutes with the new board members, you can really get them up to speed.

Topics to cover in the orientation meeting:
  • Organizational history and mission
  • Review of board member expectations
  • Review of financials
  • Q&A from new board members

Don’t paint an idealized picture of your organization in this meeting. These are board members, and they deserve honest answers. They’re going to learn the truth about how tight finances get in the fall, or how much work will be expected of them for the annual fundraiser. (At the same time, don’t set out to scare them before their first day either.)

This meeting is a good time to lay the groundwork for any big initiatives you might be thinking about for the next year, too.

So don’t get caught flat-footed. Start preparing the next class of board members now and your job as an Executive Director this year working for the board will be much easier.

Want to hep your board improve? Download a free preview of “The Little Book of Boards” and get the first chapter covering the basics of board responsibilities. This might be perfect tool to get your board back on track!

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