Nonprofit Board Training in 5 Simple Steps

Ronnie Gomez

Clear direction at the board level can be transformative for a nonprofit organization, but often times, it’s easier said than done.

In fact, according to the 2019 Nonprofit Leadership Impact Study, 49% of nonprofits listed establishing clear roles and expectations for board members as a key challenge influencing the effectiveness of their board.

Our goal is to help you push that percentage down to zero, and there’s no better place to start than building out a formalized, documented nonprofit board training program. Let’s dive in!

Why You Need a Nonprofit Board Member Training Program

There’s a pretty steep learning curve that comes with joining a nonprofit board. Every organization has its own unique operational standards and quirks. Even if your new board member has previous experience serving other nonprofits, they’ve never served your nonprofit.

Without proper guidance, the process of getting adjusted to a new board position can be intimidating and lengthy. In worst case scenarios, some board members never find their footing, and leave at or before the conclusion of their term.

Board training programs help prevent new board members from feeling overwhelmed by their position, and empower them to be proactive from the start of their service. Empowered board members do more for your nonprofit.

5 Steps to a More Effective Nonprofit Board Training Program

Create a Documented Onboarding Process

Giving new board members a defined onboarding process is key to setting them up for success. Studies have shown that organizations with a standard onboarding process in place experience 50 percent greater productivity with new talent.

Create a process that outlines what needs to be completed for them to most effectively serve your organization. Make sure that it’s time-sensitive, so your board member-in-training is motivated to actively work through each step. We recommend requesting that it be completed within 30-, 60-, or 90- days.

NEW! Build better board members with our Board Orientation Checklist. Check it out in our latest resource, Unpacking the 2019 Nonprofit Leadership Study. Download it here!

Give Them Some Extra Confidence

A solid nonprofit board training program should leave your new board member with a sense of accomplishment and belonging. Upon completion, they should have a deep understanding of their place within your organization.

So how is that accomplished? Aside from being friendly and welcoming, you should also be candid. Tell your new board member why they were chosen for their position, and what you hope they will be able to accomplish with their skill set.

Providing them with these insights can give a big confidence boost, and it can also serve as an opportunity to reinforce the traits that made them such a good prospect in the first place.

Awaken Their Inner Fundraiser

Your nonprofit’s fundraising strategies are unique to your mission and operations. Even if your new board member has previous fundraising experience, you should still give them an outline on how fundraising works at your organization.

39% of nonprofits find it difficult to make sure that their board members have a fundamental understanding of fundraising strategies.

The 2019 Nonprofit Leadership Study

Explain where you’ve had the most success in the past, and where you see opportunities for the future. Then, go over how board members are expected to be involved in the fundraising process. Don’t forget to supply them with relevant resources needed to set them up for success.

And if they’re light on experience, remember to cover all the basics as well. What seems like common knowledge to you might completely go over their head, so don’t be afraid to over explain.

Pair Them With a Mentor

Connecting your new recruit with a veteran board member can provide them with a template for what success in their role might look like. When picking a mentor, think about who exemplifies the standard you want to be set for board involvement.

This doesn’t have to be a big time commitment on behalf of your existing board member. Just have them swap contact information so your new board member has someone to go to when they have questions or concerns.

Check In, Check In, Check In

Progress monitoring is pivotal to developing any successful process, and your nonprofit board training program is no exception. Check-ins can be used to answer any lingering questions and as a chance to request feedback from your new recruit.

Try to have at least two or three check-ins scheduled throughout your training process. Scheduling them ahead of time gives your new board member more time to collect their thoughts and record their insights. More time to prep means better questions, thoughtful feedback, and a more successful meeting.  

And there you have it!

Everyone benefits from a board that runs better — especially your constituents. Do you have any board training tips? We’d love to hear ‘em. Feel free to share in the comments below!

  • Linda Rogers

    The biggest challenge I have found in on-boarding new Board Members is getting them to park their corporate world expectations at the door and learn to understand that non-profits do not “operate like a business” and cannot. Indeed very good noprofit decisions may seem very “un-businesslike” in that they will open the door to new engagement and new funders but might reduce earned revenue in the cycle. For example an arts organization developing a new controversial performing arts work that might be eligible for commissioning and development funds but have a smaller audience potential.

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