So You’re On The Board Of Directors, Now What?

Congratulations! You’re officially a board member of an organization that addresses a cause you care about. Becoming a board member is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences of a lifetime. Consequently, you are in a great position to help your agency create an even larger impact than it currently does. 

Yet, as you begin to immerse yourself in the organization’s work, you may realize there is a lot of history, precedent, and detail you’ll need to learn to start playing a meaningful role as a director. So, before your first board meeting, take it upon yourself to get educated on important topics you will need to know.

Here are a few ways to prepare yourself for becoming a board member:

Review General Agency Orientation Topics

  • Mission, Vision, Values – Ask your trainer (board chair, executive director, etc)  to explain the Mission, Vision, and Values in their own words. Too often these foundational documents use lofty words that sound great but are open to interpretation.
  • Strategic Plan, Goals, and Status – These critical documents are the foundation of all agency decisions. Take time to understand them and their implications.
  • Duties Of A Director: Care, Loyalty, Obedience – Legally, every board member must exercise these three duties. Understanding them will help you avoid problems later.
  • Financial Reports Review – Nonprofit financial statements are a little different from for-profit statements. Spend time with the CFO (or whoever prepares them) to become familiar with them.
  • Insurance Protection – Ensure proper coverages and limits are in place for the type of services the agency provides, especially Director’s and Officer’s Liability coverage. 
  • Current Issues – What are the top priority issues the agency faces? Are you comfortable facing them? Is the agency properly addressing them or has it put its head in the sand? Some important issues may be publicly known by the local community, while the board may be treating others as confidential.
  • Program Review: Purpose, Operations, Success for clients – What are the programs being offered and what are their purposes? Does each one meet the test of helping clients succeed? How does the agency evaluate the success of each program?
  • Review the Board Policy Manual – There is a great deal of valuable information in this manual. Spend time reading through it. It should contain a copy of every important decision, process, and policy determination ever made. Do not be tempted to skip this step; it is too important.
  • Ask about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – How does the agency track and measure its progress on goals and the mission?

Stay Confident, Focused and In The Know

  • Learn The Avoidable Missteps – Ask about any unwritten protocols or understandings for the board.
  • Stay Up To Date – Ask for a list of all board meeting and committee meeting dates for the next 12 months
  • Show Extra Effort – Ask former or current directors which topics they wished they had learned early on when they first joined the board. Follow up on those topics with the board chair or executive director.
  • Seek Out Those With Experience – Find a board mentor/sponsor you can go to with questions from time to time.
  • Be Creative – Seek out nonspeaking ways to represent the agency (with others).
  • Know Your Worth – Identify where you can best plug into board operations and add value
  • Go The Extra Mile – Volunteer to help out with something at the agency. Get involved soon so you get to know every one quickly. You will also gain a valuable perspective of how things work. 
  • Do Your Homework – Familiarize yourself with each program so you can hold intelligent conversations about the agency with others. Develop a clear elevator speech.
  • Share Your Story – Tell your friends and colleagues about your involvement and commitment to the agency and why you joined.
  • Introduce Yourself  – Try to develop a solid working relationship with each member of the agency’s leadership team. Putting together a face, a name, and role/area of responsibility will help you become comfortable in becoming a board member. 

Remember, be a team player, but don’t forget your board responsibilities. This includes asking the tough or unpopular questions. When things don’t make sense, when someone addresses issues superficially, ask for clarity.

This comprehensive list will serve you well as you launch your board service. In fact, smart board chairs probably should take 10-15 minutes from each board meeting to cover one of these topics. Good luck with preparing for becoming a board member. Let me know if I missed anything!


Overwhelmed by Your Leadership Role?