Once you have successfully recruited new board members, you can help them by doing more to orient them to their new role than just handing them the by-laws and policies to read. You absolutely want to give them a binder with all the information they need to be a good board member, including the articles, by-laws, and policies, of course, but also contact information for all board members, a schedule of major events (especially if they are expected to participate), an org chart if there is more than a few staff members, and a well-written one-page description of the organization to help them explain it to other people.
But don’t stop there. Be sure to clarify their role and responsibilities. Make sure they know what the board’s responsibilities are and when they are expected to support the board’s decisions, even if they disagree. Explain the organization’s structure and what tasks are performed by the board and what by staff. Clarify the difference between their role as a board member and their role as a highly engaged volunteer; one supervises the executive director and the other is supervised by the executive director, if nothing else.
Other ways to help new board members become strong leaders on the board include:
- Match them with a board buddy or mentor who is tasked with answering all their questions.
- Host board social events. Maybe the first board meeting after new members are added ends with a party for all board members and staff, with food and drink. Meeting everyone will ease the new member’s confusion and start to build a team.
- Introduce them to the entire staff. Remind the staff to be enthusiastic and informative when interacting with new board members.
- Engage them in your programs in some way. This may require a custom event for board members that is representative of what you do if there is no good way for them to volunteer in the programs.
- Make sure they know how to read financial statements, or provide training or access to someone who knows as needed. For instance a CFO could hold “office hours” before board meetings so that members could ask questions and be prepared for the meeting.
- Encourage them to join Board committees where they can make an immediate difference.
Don’t inundate the new board members with all this at once. Spread it out over 3-6 months so they have time to absorb it and ask questions. It takes some time and effort to incorporate new board members into the board, but the result is a stronger, more engaged and more effective board.