How to Initiate Your Newest Board Member: Thoughts on Nurturing Your Next Great Leader

Board members are the activators of your organization, the yeast to your nonprofit’s dough. Without strong leaders on your board, your organization won’t rise.

As the key ingredient to your nonprofit’s lasting success, board members need a thoughtfully prepared onboarding plan from you. Without one, board members will be left struggling to understand their new role—and the inner workings of your organization—on their own. Neither of you can afford to let that happen. Create an onboarding process now to help each new board member become the leader your organization needs.

Great (Leader) Expectations

So that neither party is disappointed, clarify your nonprofit’s expectations from the start.

Begin with a direct discussion of your new board member’s personal contribution. Create an Expectations Sheet or Culture Contract of some sort to make sure they understand what you need from them in terms of fundraising, advocacy and even meeting attendance.

Also include a detailed outline of your nonprofit’s commitments to the board member. You might promise formal training or opportunities for continued professional development. Sign the expectations with your new board member and hold your organization to the same high standard.

Culture Club

Acculturation may be the most important aspect of your onboarding strategy. And it’s two-fold. Especially if they weren’t long-time volunteers before joining the board, new members need to understand your nonprofit’s culture as a whole. What are your values as an organization? What inspires your staff, board and volunteers to work hard every day? Integrating this information will help your board member deepen their connection to your organization.

Be even more specific with the second part of cultural onboarding. Share your thoughts about the culture within your board of directors. This important step can focus on the unspoken cultural climate shared among your board the directors. For example, to acclimate your new member to your board’s social climate, consider the routines and traditions other members view as understood. If a board member emails the group late Sunday night to prep for Monday morning’s meeting, alert your new recruit so he or she can keep an eye out for it.

Granted, a new board member already enjoys a special relationship with your nonprofit if they’re on your board. But sharing your board’s culture will help them deepen it, as well as cultivate close working relationships between them and other board members.

Though any devoted nonprofit board member will tell you that their role in your organization could be a full-time job, welcoming a new member onto your board of directors is distinct from onboarding a new staff member.

What do you think is the most important part of your nonprofit’s onboarding strategy for board members?


Jill Havlat

June 15, 2012

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