When a new board member undergoes training, the hope is that they’ll enter the program as an eager, curious trainee and come out the other side ready to tackle their role and all the challenges that come with it.
Of course, that dream doesn’t always pan out, as even the most tenacious new board members can struggle to succeed if they haven’t been fully prepared for what’s to come. And to be clear, there are quite a few challenges that can come with being a nonprofit board member.
From publicly protecting your nonprofit’s reputation to soliciting high-level prospects, there are a number of key skills that every new board member needs to grasp in order to prosper in their role and among your leadership team. In particular, we’ll cover the following fundamental skills and topics to cover during training, as well as steps you can take to ensure new board members have mastered them:
- Understanding their specific role
- Collaborating and communicating within a team
- Fundraising and securing resources
- Leading committees and groups
Eager to improve your board fundraising, team-wide communication, and other key skills? Let’s start with the basics of what new board members need to know.
Understanding their specific role
It’s a pretty rare occurrence for nonprofit boards to receive new members that have extensive experience leading a nonprofit organization. Instead, you’ll often encounter seasoned for-profit leaders, novice philanthropists, or long-time supporters of your nonprofit with no practical board experience.
This means that your training program needs to thoroughly explain the fundamentals of the specific roles that each new board member is stepping into. These roles might involve preparing fundraising reports for the executive director, carefully documenting meeting minutes, or any number of other specialized tasks.
Additionally, newcomers should also be taught the broader responsibilities of all of your nonprofit’s board members. In particular, Boardable’s guide to board member responsibilities and roles highlights seven critical board member responsibilities that everyone should understand and work towards. They include:
- Advancing the core mission of your organization.
- Fulfilling the financial and legal responsibilities specific to your nonprofit, such as IRS tax reporting.
- Preparing for and attending board meetings.
- Responsibly hiring, overseeing, and evaluating the executive director.
- Recruiting exceptional and promising new board members.
- Using effective communication tools and technology.
- Diligently serving on a committee or committees.
Of course, between these overarching duties and the many technical and managerial responsibilities of their specific roles, new board members may feel overwhelmed if you just dump all of this information into their laps.
Instead, organize and facilitate these lessons by integrating an LMS, or learning management system, into your board software. This will allow you to create easy-to-follow, interactive courses about board member roles, tasks, and challenges.
Collaborating and communicating within a team
By joining your nonprofit board, new members are stepping into a team of leaders, doers, and innovators who need to work together to push your organization toward future success. As cliche as it sounds, teamwork and open communication are core values of every successful leadership team.
This not only ensures that your nonprofit is running smoothly on an everyday basis, but it’s also critical when it comes to managing complex programs and initiatives, such as your year-end fundraising campaigns.
To create a culture where this is possible and train new board members on the fundamentals of team collaboration, you should:
- Educate new board members on the roles and responsibilities of other board members.
- Organize best practices for creating open, concise, and direct communication between board members.
- Use recurring virtual and in-person meetings to create a space where your entire board can touch base.
- Make an effort to schedule team-building activities and events.
Additionally, as your nonprofit grows, your board expands, and your duties evolve, circle back and re-evaluate the roles and responsibilities of different board members. Be sure to set clear expectations about who is doing what and how different members can engage with one another to help accomplish your goals, and adjust your training to match these changes.
Fundraising and securing resources
Fundraising is the fuel that keeps your nonprofit running. By securing funding for your nonprofit, you’re able to grow, maintain your team of staff, field resources for new projects, and keep the lights on as you fight to accomplish your mission.
Your board members are important players in the fundraising process. They’re expected to go out onto the front lines and secure high-value prospects, such as solidifying corporate sponsorships or soliciting major donations during important campaigns.
That being said, many new board members are inexperienced and even uncomfortable with the idea of going out and soliciting these resources, which is what makes prepping nonprofit board members to fundraise another essential part of the training process.
To train your new board members to fundraise effectively, implement these strategies:
- Instruct and quiz new board members on best practices for soliciting resources from different kinds of prospects, sponsors, and partners.
- Bring in a fundraising consultant to assist new board members one-on-one with their fundraising knowledge and skills.
- Create plausible (or disaster) scenarios and challenge board members to consider their fundraising strategies based on these helpful “what-if?” games.
Furthermore, encourage new board members to start their search for prospects by leveraging their personal and professional networks. They don’t necessarily have to cold call a prospective sponsor or donor on day one—it can both be more effective and easier for new board members to ask for support from people they know well.
Leading committees and groups
No matter if a board member is a treasurer, secretary, or committee chair, everyone is expected to serve as a leader when they join your nonprofit board. In particular, serving on a committee is (or should be) a compulsory board member duty, and new board members need to be prepped with leadership skills that will help them guide their committees toward success.
Regardless of whether your new board members will go on to lead membership, finance, or fundraising committees, every incoming member should be trained to:
- Have confidence in their opinion and freely, openly speak their mind when they propose ideas, make suggestions, or require clarification.
- Facilitate open and constructive dialogue between the members of their committee and other groups they lead.
- De-escalate conflict and manage conflict resolution.
- Encourage, inspire, and reward those under their leadership to drive them to continue to do their best.
Of course, the reality of managing a committee or any other group of professionals is a complex challenge that includes countless different scenarios to consider. To make your leadership lesson plans as effective as possible, you might focus on microlearning.
According to re:Charity’s resource on microlearning, microlearning courses are relatively short and more focused lesson plans that are centered on a single learning outcome, like strategically diffusing a dispute between two committee members. These mini-courses are easy to consume and focus on specific challenges, allowing you to leverage your board software to educate new board members on real-life scenarios that they might very well encounter.
Successfully onboarding new board members into your organization can be a complicated, delicate process that requires a good deal of planning and management on your part. However, the investment is well worth the reward. With the effective training strategies and tools we’ve shared, you have everything you need to begin turning eager new board members into capable leaders to drive your nonprofit forward.