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New Board Member Training: Five Best Practices

Get new board members up to speed faster and with less hassle

According to Nonprofit Quarterly, performance problems are one of the biggest stumbling blocks for both nonprofit and for-profit boards. Dysfunctional group dynamics, disengagement with the board’s purpose and function, and (perhaps most importantly) a lack of understanding of each member’s specific roles (and their value to the board as a whole) all contribute to lackluster board performance and results.

On-boarding new nonprofit board members may seem like a time-consuming chore, especially if a new board member has served in a similar capacity for other organizations. But if you really want your board to serve in its fullest and best capacity, a little time spent training new members can yield big benefits down the line.

5 Best Practices for New Board Member Training

As a vocal advocate for your organization, you undoubtedly have lots to say when it comes to developing and executing on a new board member training plan. At the same time, you don’t want to overwhelm new board members by providing too much information, a temptation that can wind up making new members feel overburdened and unfocused instead of motivated and engaged.

Following these five simple best practices is a good start for helping your nonprofit board members understand their roles so they become powerful advocates for your mission over time:

  1. Schedule a one-on-one orientation before their first board meeting or official function. Sure, a board is designed to function as a unit, but coming on board during an actual meeting can be more than overwhelming. Meeting ahead of time gives you some time to give your new board member the “lay of the land,” helping them understand the board’s mission and their role in achieving that mission. Plus, it’s a good time for questions and answers that can help your new board member feel more comfortable, right from the start.
  2. Provide the new board member with your board handbook or other documentation that helps them gain a clear picture of the organization, the board, and the overarching mission. Highlight the most important parts of the handbook to make it easy for your new board member to get up to speed.
  3. Describe the function of each board member as well as their own duties and responsibilities. You might find it helpful to review a recent board event or function as an example of how the board “works” – both on its own and in furthering the organization’s goals. It’s also helpful to have a printed sheet detailing the new board member’s responsibilities and to have them sign a copy so you’re sure they understand. (This sheet can also help a new board member identify issues, concerns or questions they may have about their role.)
  4. Pair a new board member with an experienced member who can act as a mentor. Assigning a “board buddy” helps your new board member get up to speed faster and feel less intimidated or overwhelmed by their duties.
  5. Schedule an informal “meet and greet” before the next board meeting to allow your new and “old” board members a chance to chat before official business beings. Setting aside some social time breaks the ice and helps everyone relax, which makes it easier to work together.

Taking some time to properly execute a new board member training plan sets the stage for successfor the board as well as for the new board member. Plus, it can help iron out minor concerns ahead of time so your board continues to function productively to support its mission.

When on-boarding your next new member, take notes about what worksand what doesn’tand use that information to create a comprehensive on-boarding plan you can use to make the process even simpler in the future.

To discover even more actionable advice on how to make nonprofit board member orientation more simple and effective, grab a free copy of Boardable’s comprehensive “5-Steps Guide to Onboarding New Board Members” as a downloadable ebook. Checklist included!

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