When you are a busy nonprofit leader, securing a new board member might seem like an item to check off your “to do” list. And it is, to an extent. However, if you stop there, you are jeopardizing all of the hard work that you have put into finding and recruiting qualified board members.
I am frequently asked about how to retain board members. As if there is one thing that you could do to keep a good board member. The reality is that retaining board members takes the culmination of many things. Some of them are within our control, and some are not. A board member being transferred out of state is not something that we can control. Treating board members respectfully and valuing them is totally within our control.
In this article we’ll look at what to do once someone agrees to join your board. A professional onboarding process can work wonders in helping a new governance volunteer to feel welcomed, comfortable and valued. All key components in retaining a volunteer long-term.
When someone agrees to join your board, there are the logistical things to do:
- Add them to your board roster
- Order them a name tag (if that’s something you provide)
- Ensure they have all meeting dates and other commitments
- Complete any necessary paperwork
After you get those tasks handled, then it’s time to think about the experience you create for your new board member. Consider putting an onboarding plan together that includes: an announcement, personal support, and education.
Does the new board member just show up to the first meeting? Or do you send a notification out to the board and staff announcing the new member? Needless to say, an advance notice is preferable. Other ways of making a newbie feel welcome could include a sign as they enter your facility, put their name on a marquee, or an announcement in your newsletter, on your website, or in the local paper.
Take into consideration the personality and the culture of your board/agency as you send out the announcement. Should it be strictly professional and highlight the new volunteer’s accomplishments? Do you want to make it playful with fun facts? Does it make sense to share personal attributes about the new addition to your board? The answer will be different for each agency and each board. It may even tie to your mission. For example, if you promote reading, maybe the announcement shares the new board member’s favorite children’s book.
Joining a new group of any kind can be daunting. It’s even more intimidating when everyone but you seems to know what’s going on. There are several ways to mitigate that uneasy feeling of walking into a room of strangers. Assigning a veteran board member as a mentor or a “board buddy” can help with the transition to a new group.
This can be as informal or as formal as you and the board would like for it to be. The pair can meet prior to the new board member’s first meeting, so there’s a friendly face when they arrive. They can sit together during the meeting, to help with clarifying any questions that arise. And they can connect afterwards to explore how the experience was and continue to help answer questions.
You can also assign a staff or volunteer to serve as the new volunteer’s personal host. Their job may be to introduce them around, and give context to the different players involved in the meeting.
There is a lot to learn when joining a new board. Many describe it as drinking from a firehose. Finding the balance between giving them what they need to know in order to be effective, and not overwhelming them and scaring them away, is a tricky balance to find. Again, this will be different for every agency, and you will need to figure out what is right for yours. Here are a few ideas for methods of educating your new volunteers.
- Orientation: If you bring in a new “class” of board members all at the same time, it may make sense to do a formal group orientation. It can range from a couple of hours to half a day. Involving staff and volunteers; as well as stories and activities, can reinforce learning and make it an impactful experience.
- Series of Conversations: When you bring new members in individually, it can be a little more difficult to keep it from being a total information-download. Think about breaking it up into different sessions, and again involve other staff and volunteers in the delivery. Spreading it out over a month or two can give the individual the opportunity to absorb all the new information.
- Self-guided Content: Another option is to create a series of emails, videos, or even podcasts that the new volunteer can consume over a period of time. This option is going to be less personal, and there’s the risk that the new person will not commit the time to review the materials. A board manual (print or online) that you give them to read would also fall in this category.
Some things you may want to include in your new board education are:
- Why you exist – what is the critical social issue your agency addresses
- How you help solve the problem for your community
- What programs and services you deliver
- The impact that your agency provides to the community
- Key messaging
- Review board expectations again
- Duties and purpose of the board
- How your board operates
- Logistics – staff and board contact information, key dates, access to any portals or technology the board uses, and any other materials they will need
Finally, you might consider putting together a goodie bag for when they come to their first meeting. The goodies could include an agency t-shirt, their name tag, a notepad and pen, candy, and other swag. (This would be a great project for a board member who really loves to help with recognitions and appreciations.)
How you bring a new person into your organization sets the tone for their experience. Want to retain your board members? Put intentional thought into all aspects of the experience you are providing for them. If you would like help putting together an on-boarding process that’s right for your agency, I would love to visit. Email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com, let’s connect!
Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses.