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Onboarding Your New Board Members

Board members play a crucial role in every center. They aren’t just filling a seat, they are offering strategic direction, professional experience and ensuring financial stewardship for your ministry. Board members are there to provide oversight in the most important matters your center faces, but they should also serve in a support role for the Executive Director and other key staff. Therefore, effective onboarding of new board members is an extremely important step in creating healthy relationships and unity among leadership.

In this article, we will explore the differences between a working board and a governing board. I’ll also share some simple tips to make the onboarding process easy and help your new board members to feel valued, comfortable, and connected right from the start.

Working Board vs. Governing Board

Many headaches between staff and board can be avoided by clearly defining the role of board members and therefore, managing expectations. While there are many types of boards and variations in between, most would fall under these 2 distinctions.

  • Working Board: A working board is deeply involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization. Members often wear multiple hats, taking on roles beyond governance, such as fundraising, program management, and hands-on client work.

  • Governing Board: A governing board primarily focuses on high-level strategic decisions, policymaking, and providing oversight. Members act as stewards of the organization, ensuring it stays aligned with its mission and values, but do not involve themselves in the day-to-day operations of the center.

In both cases, the board should be the support or backbone of the organization allowing the Executive Director to lead the staff and volunteers in fulfilling the mission of the center.

The Onboarding Process

Step 1: Host a welcome event.

The onboarding journey should begin with a warm welcome for the ED and staff. Invite new board members for a tour of the organization's facilities and a meet and greet with staff. This serves 3 important purposes.

  • Familiarity: New members get to know the people they'll be working closely with. Building personal connections early on can foster collaboration and trust.

  • Understanding Services: Provide an overview of all the center's services. Explain what the organization does, who it serves, and the impact it makes. This helps new members see the bigger picture and feel more connected to the mission.

  • Roles and Responsibilities: Introduce them to the key staff members and clarify who is responsible for what. This prevents confusion and ensures everyone knows where to turn for information or support.

Step 2. Supply them with a comprehensive Board Member Handbook.

A well-structured handbook is an invaluable resource for new board members. Here are some things you will want to include.

Mission and Vision Statements: Providing these statements will reinforce the organization's core purpose and future aspirations. This keeps everyone aligned with the overarching goals.

  • Articles of Incorporation: This gives a better understanding of the organization's legal framework and foundational principles.

  • Center Policies and Procedures: While the centers policies and procedures will be carried out by the Directors, providing a copy for new board members will outline the rules and regulations and boundaries at all staff and volunteers will be expected to operate in.

  • Board and Staff Job Descriptions: Clarifying the roles and responsibilities of both board members and staff prevents overlapping duties, ensures a clear division of labor and allows the board to manage expectations of the staff.

  • Contact Info for ED and Board Members: Provide a directory with contact information for the Executive Director and fellow board members. This encourages open communication and collaboration.

  • Calendar of Future Meetings and Events: Share a schedule of upcoming board meetings, events, and key milestones. This helps new members plan their involvement effectively and begin to feel like they are a real part of the team instead of an outsider.

Remember, onboarding isn’t just an administrative task; it’s an investment in the future success of your organization and will create a sense of unity among all the center’s leadership. If you don’t have new members to onboard, consider taking some of these steps with your current board. And as always, I’m here to help. Just reach out.


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