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Helping board members grow into leaders

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Mark VanBenschoten

When someone agrees to serve on your board of directors, how can you help them succeed?

Below are tips to help develop productive, successful board members.

Offer orientation — Share the inner workings of the organization by explaining everything from what each staff member does, to how bills are paid, to seasonal or cyclical nature of the organization’s work.

Provide ongoing education — Take 15 minutes at each monthly board meeting to discuss a different aspect of the organization’s workings. It might be reviewing disbursement policies one month, how to read the financial statement the next, to the group’s investment policies the following month.

Evaluate board member performance — The most effective boards don’t set term limits or make board members for life, but rather evaluate board seats to ensure each board member contributes time, ideas or money. Sometimes a board seat can be better served by another who can better contribute to the organization.

Maintain a healthy relationship with staff members — Strong personalities can sway the discussion or the decision. When a personal agenda surfaces, it can take courage to ask the obvious question: Is this action in the best interest of our group? Effective board members can discuss the issues without taking the responses personally.

Don’t be afraid to ask the “dumb” question — Sometimes board members don’t ask a pertinent question because they fear they’ll look uninformed. To make informed decisions for the organization you must understand the issue, the alternatives and their potential impact on the group. Welcome questions.

Be prepared — Encourage board members to review documents prior to meetings and arrive prepared to discuss the agenda. If a meeting is missed, share what happened prior to the next meeting. The organization should keep moving forward with the agenda, rather than become bogged down with questions about past decisions.

Discuss the legal responsibility of board members — Boards have specific legal duties. The most common include exercising sound judgment, keeping the organization fiscally sound, and following the organization’s constitution. Additional responsibilities are outlined by each state’s attorney general and secretary of state, and by the Internal Revenue Service.

Careful preparation and management can help new board members soar in their new positions. Take the time to help them and they’ll help your organization succeed.


Mark VanBenschoten is a principal and director of not-for-profit services with Rea & Associates Inc.

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