This post is part of the occasional "10 ways" series - quick, practical responses to common questions about nonprofit boards and the work that they do.
Last week, we talked about 10 ways to create and sustain a successful board recruitment process. Your board took that counsel to heart; and the result is a group of committed, enthusiastic new members who bring a diverse range of perspectives and skills that build your collective capacity. Finding and inviting those individuals to join your leadership team is only the first step. How you bring them on board also is critical. When you engage those new members in ways that are meaningful to them and to the organization, you lay the foundation for an effective and fruitful term of service.
Here are 10 ways to facilitate that experience for your newest members:
1) Make sure that each new member can see and articulate connections between your vision and mission and his/her motivations, interests, values. What are the rewards they will experience from this service? How will leading your organization enable them to act on their own values? Where will they find the meaning that keeps them motivated, especially through the difficult challenges that your board will inevitably face? Helping new members identify those intersections, and working to ensure that they have opportunities that meet those meaning-making needs, will increase the value to them and their commitment to you.
2) Provide a supportive induction event. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know my thoughts about relying on one, limited orientation event as the source of everything new members need to know to serve and lead. They require more from you to succeed, but that orientation event has a place in new member induction. For more detail on how to construct an orientation that introduces new board members to the organization and their duties, click here.
3) Offer ongoing opportunities to learn in meetings and other board work settings. All members build capacity when they have opportunities for experiential learning -- to dive in, explore, and even make mistakes while deepening their understanding of your mission area and their governance duties. Meetings should not only welcome active member participation and information sharing, they should be built to require them. New members should be encouraged to be part of that process from their first meeting with you.
4) Assign a board mentor to each new member. Pair up each new member with a board veteran who can check in periodically, explain issues and processes that may be initially unclear, and provide a friendly source for asking 'naive' questions that they may feel uncomfortable posing in the larger group. This relationship not only benefits the new member; it often functions as a renewing spark for the vet, who may find him/herself rethinking "why we do things this way" and seeing board service through fresh eyes.
5) Provide ready access to necessary board documents, tools and information immediately. Whether provided through a hard copy board handbook or online portal, new members should have access to resources that introduce the organization and the responsibilities they have just assumed soon after accepting a seat on the board. If possible, put those resources into their hands before the orientation event. This allows new members to come to that orientation event with questions about things that are important or troubling to them (which, in turn, paves the way for a different kind of active engagement during that training).
6) Provide regular check-ins with the board president and executive director. Even with the informal support of a mentor, the new member will benefit from having periodic opportunities to interact one-on-one with the board's president and its executive director. These can be critical checkpoints to not only answer lingering questions but to identify challenges that new members are encountering, new opportunities to get involved.
7) Offer a tour or other opportunities to meet staff, programs and facilities. Brochures, reports and the like offer one level of introduction to your work and the people behind it. But something different happens when new members have (appropriate) experiences that connect them more directly. Give them a chance to visit your site, see where and how you work, and get acquainted with employees and others engaged in program delivery.
8) Assign new members to at least one committee that invites them to engage in an area of interest or where they can contribute expertise. Strategic committee involvement can facilitate early, active, meaningful participation that builds ownership and leadership. Don't just plop them into any open space on a committee roster. Find a place where they can stretch and learn while contributing to the board's work.
9) Check in with new members two to three months into their service to ask about specific learning needs, and do your best to address them. Even with a high level of support and opportunities to experience board service, new members still will have areas where additional/deeper information is needed. When they identify those needs, do what you need to do to fill them.
10) Provide a meeting environment where questions are part of the governance process. Everyone benefits when meeting agendas routinely contain open spaces for wide-open, future-oriented questions - when passive listening to reports is kept to a minimum (or eliminated altogether) and active participation by all members is expected. Flipping the agenda is one alternative I've recommended to boards for whom a radical restructuring feels impossible.