Welcome a Board

Joan M. Renner, CPA, CGMA, Director 501(c)(fit!)

Do you provide a Board Orientation?  This came up at last month’s 501(c)(fit!) financial leadership training seminar, and our participants compared notes.  Many participants did hold a Board Orientation and they shared the topics they cover, such as the history of the organization, the duties of a Board member, fundraising responsibilities, and financial oversight.  Some mentioned discussing the organization’s strategic plan.  These organizations are helping their Board members direct their efforts to where they are most valuable.  After all, every Board member wants to make a positive impact.

While we know the traditional Board Orientation activities, some new research suggests that there are some other things you may want to incorporate to lead your Board to greater impact. 

  • How about a team-building activity? Did you know that a Board’s impact depends not only on how well Board members understand roles and responsibilities, but also how well they work as a collaborative team toward shared goals? * 
  • How about something social? Did you know that organizations with strong Board teamwork are more likely to have dedicated social time for Board members? * 
  • How about a program-related activity? Did you know that a strong understanding of the organization’s programs is linked to stronger Board engagement, strategy and leadership—including fundraising? * 

Here’s an example of the power of program participation.  One winter, our staff signed up to make sandwiches at the local homeless shelter.  When the day came to volunteer, it snowed, and most of our staff stayed home.  So, our shareholders and managers went to the homeless shelter, made sandwiches and served lunch.  We were a great team. 

While we used our best culinary skills, I couldn’t help noticing that the shelter didn’t really need us to make sandwiches that day.  They didn’t really need our labor.  They had enough ham and cheese.  I now realize that it wasn’t just about the sandwiches.  What the shelter really needed was for us to participate in their good work so we could tell their story.  Over that day’s lunch, as we handed out sandwiches to homeless men, women and children, we felt the impact of their program, and became advocates for their mission.  This is the transformative experience you want for your Board.  

What can we learn?

Consider including teamwork and program awareness in your next Board Orientation or retreat.  Maybe you can include some social time to build Board relationships.  Maybe you’ll even be able to arrange for Board members to team up and participate in one of your programs; deliver meals-on-wheels, give out groceries or read books to the children in your center.  It’s not that you need their labor, it’s that you need them to build their sense of teamwork and their understanding of your programs.  When they collaborate with a shared purpose and see first-hand the good work you do, they’ll be better able to work together and make the best decisions as Board members.    

Check out BoardSource’s new Board Orientation Checklist.  It’s a great resource you can download for free

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*Yes, it’s true per BoardSource’s new survey, Leading with Intent:  2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices.

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