Chances are, you’re used to seeing some new faces join your board of directors on a regular basis. It’s not uncommon for association boards to have established terms, but just what does it mean to have new people constantly popping in and out of volunteer leadership positions?
Whether they grew up within your organization or are coming in from the outside to offer a fresh perspective, introducing a new board member comes with a unique set of challenges. As a leader on your association’s staff, you must not only be able to adapt to new leadership styles and personalities, but also help ingrain your new volunteer leaders in your organization’s processes and goals. A recent ASAE webinar (login required) outlined five things that could help make board turnover a little easier:
Explain your governance model
From an organizational standpoint, you should already know who sets the strategic direction and who enforces it. But does your board? Governance is perhaps the largest part of a board member’s role, but they might not always be sure what is up to them and what other members of the association have a stake in. Minimize the potential for conflict by ensuring new board members are clear on their place within the decision-making process from day one.
Board members should also know how the rest of your staff fits into the process. Who is in charge of the budget? Who makes programmatic decisions? What do committees have a say in (if anything)? Your new board members need to be able to see the full picture in order to fully understand their own role.
Set expectations ASAP
It seems obvious, but all too often organizations assume that board members already know what they’re in for. The tone at the top can influence your entire organization’s performance: Set expectations from the very beginning of their term (or before they even decide to join) so you aren’t caught in any disruptive situations.
Of course there’s some crossover, but the line of responsibility between board and staff can usually be drawn at: board focuses on governance and strategy, staff influences that vision but manages the day to day operations. Outline your board members’ specific responsibilities, such as:
- Being prepared for meetings and conversations
- Participating in association initiatives and attending events
- Making and supporting decisions
- Meeting deadlines for assignments
- Supporting the association externally by acting as an ambassador to the industry
Identify leadership styles
Administering a personality quiz like StrengthsFinder will give you insight into what kind of leader you have in front of you, before you actually see them lead. This will also help you and your staff effectively work and communicate with each individual on your board. Just like your staff, they all have different quirks, strengths, and motivations!
Try to determine what kind of graduated leader they’ll be as well. Some board members leave their term as evangelists for the organization; some, unfortunately, may leave unhappily and impede or damage the association’s brand. Keep this in mind as you work with board members throughout their term (especially if you think they could wind up being the latter).
Show them how to maintain consistency
Many board members struggle with having a clear direction and staying focused. There will be a lot for them to tackle (and some items may seem to come out of left field) but they shouldn’t have any trouble doing so if you remind them to consistently refer back to your organization’s goals and mission. Prioritize strategic issues by determining how urgently it needs to be addressed, and how important solving the issue is to maintaining your strategic path.
Onboarding and Offboarding
Board member onboarding is just as important as new member onboarding! All of the above (and more) should start being communicated as soon as term starts. A formal orientation meeting will help ensure this happens – beyond what we’ve already talked about, consider including the following topics:
- Board handbook, meeting calendar, participation expectations, agenda setting, material distribution, and assessments
- Introductions to the staff
- Governance and management structures and responsibilities
- Decision-making processes
- Membership profile and stats
- Strategic plan
- Bylaws, policies, and budget
- Transparency vs. confidentiality
- Conflict of interest
Some associations even have a crossover onboarding/offboarding process where outgoing board members will mentor those incoming to pass off knowledge and help the new board member get up to speed. You should also think about what a complete offboarding process for outgoing board members would look like. Be proactive to avoid strained relationships and encourage their continued engagement with the association!
Covering (at least) these topics as soon as a term starts will help make for a smooth transition. With any luck, your new board member(s) will be ready to dive in head first and not disrupt any association momentum! Bringing a new board member into the fold can often feel like your onboarding a staff member – many parts of the process are similar, and giving them the staff member treatment can even help reinforce their loyalty to the organization! For more on onboarding techniques, check out our free guide: Best Practices for Onboarding New Staff.