Great organizations have great boardsthat fact is indisputable. The most important initiative of a nonprofit board is its responsibility to objectively and thoughtfully identify, recruit, and orientate the best board candidates it can find. But often, this process is given far too little attention, resulting in a weak board that’s either unqualified or incapable of fulfilling its fiduciary and other roles. 

Some boards are just not put together in a way that leads to maximum impact. They are impeded just by the way the board is comprised. No one can doubt the motivation, desire, and dedication of board members. Their hearts are in the right place and they want to serve.

But if an organization is to accomplish it’s mission, it also needs the right directors–directors whose passions, skills, experiences, talents, and networks match up with what the organization needs.

Sourcing the right board candidates is a year round activity, yet too often, it is crammed into the final quarter when board members are preparing to leave. It is far better to keep one or more open board seats unfilled, until the right candidates become available, rather than filling them with just anyone.

Some organizations maintain a list of qualified board candidates all year long so they can be recruited, evaluated, and brought on as needed. One can’t be too careful here or take this as a part time responsibility. Everyone should always be on the lookout for qualified candidates that are available and who have an interest in the organization’s mission.

If your organization doesn’t have a solid strategy, or plan to carry out, finding the right board members to get you there, will be nearly impossible.  Top-notch board candidates won’t waste their time serving on an agency board that is dysfunctional, doesn’t know where it’s going or how it intends to get there.

A good Strategic Plan provides everyone with a road map to where the organization is headed. It guides all decision-making, includes who needs to be hired, where to allocate resources, what projects to take on, and basically when to say yes or no. Without a plan, an organization will drift and never accomplish its mission.

Most new board members have no clue about how things work on the board or what is expected of them as a director

Maybe you have a solid strategy for going forward and you’ve even done a great job identifying the right new board members onto your board. You’re out of the woods yet. There area few simple but significant steps you can take to almost guarantee a successful launch of the new director’s service on the board. Having a board orientation system in place can be the difference between an impactful board member, and a bystander.

New board members, especially those who have never served on any board, need a couple of things early on in their board service from the executive director and board chair:

  1. Clarity on what is expected of them while serving. Why were they recruited in the first place? What does the board hope to gain from their service?

  2. Guidance on how the board works. What written and unwritten protocols and procedures exist? A new board member needs to know these so he/she can quickly feel comfortable, fit in, and begin contributing at board and committee meetings.

  3. A formal and comprehensive board orientation process, which should be outlined in a New Director Board Orientation and Training Manual, and a Board Policy Manual.

  4. Encouragement to step up and join board and committee discussions as soon as possible. If they sit through several meetings without speaking, they should be informally encouraged, privately, to feel free to jump in whenever they feel they have something to contribute.

  5. Assignment of a senior board member to serve as a mentor/director to the new one. This mentor/director becomes the go-to resource for the new member regarding anything they need help with, such as background information on issues, how things operate at the agency, etc.

If executive directors and board chairs can implement these tactics when adding new directors, your new directors will hit the ground running and begin contributing in valuable way almost immediately. 

For more ideas on how you can increase your organization’s impact, check out Break Through the ICK Factors of Nonprofit Leadership.