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By Ross McKinney, HoganTaylor Tax Manager

Bringing in and developing effective Board members is not at all easy.  Just as huge public companies can falter without adequate disaster and succession planning, non-profit Boards and the organizations they lead may suffer great setbacks without documenting and following an action plan to routinely bring in new blood with fresh ideas. The best Boards will not stay that way without frequent and deliberate restoration.

The warning has been given. Now here is what to do about it.

Make the Board Accountable

Boards that are not already furthering a plan to attract and nurture its subsequent leaders require course correction.  If you are a Board member or key employee reading this and your Board’s plan isn’t clear to you, then ask for a copy at the next meeting.  If there is no plan, or the plan isn’t documented, talk about it and be proactive in establishing an onboarding policy that can be given to all present and future Board members, reviewed during strategic planning or annually at Board retreats, and revised based on the changing needs of the organization.

While the footwork will likely fall to either a committee or other selected group members, one person, likely a seasoned Board or committee chair, should lead the process and ultimately be accountable.  Named in the plan specifically by name or Board position, he or she will capitalize on the relationships of the full Board, develop the message that communicates the needs of the non-profit while invoking passion in action, and follow along from initial contact through acceptance and then mentoring of the newer Board members.

Determine the Skills Needed

A first-class Board of directors will provide complementing perspectives while providing the right skills at the right time.  Onboarding demands clarity in the long-term goals of the organization so that the Board is unified in its support and direction.  Passion for the mission and service is a skill required of all members, but beyond that each Board will have different needs and each member should have a different set of skills.  Information technology, legal, human resources, financial, and specific technical skills coupled with members’ diverse experiences from different racial identities, gender, socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds will round out a Board.

Find the Next Board Member

Many communities offer Board internship opportunities sponsored by other non-profit organizations such as Leadership Tulsa or the United Way of Central Oklahoma that can be an asset to Boards looking for new talented Board members. People that are self-motivated to serve charitably may apply and serve as a non-voting Board intern after a detailed training session.  While the obligation is shorter than a normal Board term, working with the intern though what is essentially a probationary period makes it easier when it comes time to make the ask if they are so qualified.  Look for similar programs in your area.

The more specific you make the qualifications for potential Board members, the more effective your candidate search will be.  Volunteers, donors and other friends from the community may already show a passion to serve.  From that group, it is then just a matter of pairing the right skill sets.  Consider a luncheon or other activity that can welcome in these people to start the conversation.

Assimilating New Board Members

Earlier I mentioned providing a copy of the onboarding policy to new Board members.  Your Board should be providing a New Member Packet up front.  At a minimum, the packet should provide the mission, bylaws, job descriptions for the position accepted and of the other Board members including terms, meeting locations and times for the Board and its committees, and a timeline of the important events of the non-profit and goals of the Board.  Given during orientation, the packet is provided while the expectations for new Board members are communicated clearly.

Roll out the red carpet for your new Board members.  You need them and the Board should show it by welcoming them into the Board culture and consistently showing support and appreciation.  To help new members get acclimated and actively participating, provide them with a clear role on both the Board and a committee.  From the very beginning, new Board members should be engaged in conversation and asked for their input.  Help them overcome fears of speaking to a group while supporting their opinions, and build their confidence.  It’s also helpful to pair new members with a mentor who can address their questions and check in on them periodically, giving frequent feedback to ensure engagement.

A disengaged Board will drag down an organization’s development and reputation, so it’s crucial for leadership to implement and follow an onboarding process.

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