Immediately after the orientation of new board members, it is important to engage them in activities that they will enjoy and succeed at, as well as to acknowledge their assistance. It is helpful to gather information on each new members interests connections and backgrounds at the start of his or her term. A Board Member Information Form—which can be downloaded at the end of the article —should be distributed prior to, at the orientation meeting or immediately thereafter. Completed copies should then be passed on quickly to the board chairperson, the chief executive, the senior development officer, and the board partner. With this information, board leaders or selected staff can ask for a new board member’s help in an area where the new board member can be most effective. It will ensure that new board members get involved in areas where they can make a difference.
After the initial orientation meeting, an individual meeting with a new board member is an effective way to focus attention, build rapport, and enlist support. With the Board Member Information Form in hand, the chairperson of the board or the chairs of the committee on governance and leadership development, development committee, or any other committee in which the new board member has expressed interest, should consider setting up a meeting. Such a meeting offers an important opportunity to discuss mutual interests, opportunities, and needs.
Working as an Individual
New board members should be invited to work in several ways for the organization between board meetings:
- Serving on a board committee in an area of personal interest or expertise.
- Lending advice to various staff members in the areas of their skills, background, and expertise if requested by the chief executive. For example, an attorney, fund raiser, accountant, or public relations specialist might each be invited to attend a special board committee meeting, and work with, make suggestions to, or discuss work of staff or consultants in their respective areas of knowledge. There is also, of course, value in giving new board members an opportunity to work in new areas of interest.
After a few board meetings, a new board member might also help by:
- When requested by the chief executive or the board chairperson, contacting individuals personally known to the board member for the benefit of the organization;
- Arranging meetings with or visiting potential major donors or board members with another experienced board member, after consulting with the development officer;
- Writing letters to potential donors or people who might help the organization in some other way, again after consulting with the development officer; and
- Being sensitive to other ways to use his or her influence, talents, and resources on behalf of the organization.
Keeping up to Date and Improving Board Skills
Nonprofit governance, like many things in life, is an art and not a science. Like both the art and science, however, governance is worth studying and doing well.
The board chairperson, committee on governance and leadership development, chief executive, and development staff can help new board members feel that their board work is vital and challenging. Continuing to develop Board skills, encouraging involvement at different levels and being alert to new board member participation in activities are all effective ways to promote board member growth.
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Orienting New Board Members