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Effective Management

The 5 Ps of Onboarding New Board Members

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Here’s a cheat sheet of the essentials to set new members up for success and maximize their contribution to advancing your organization’s mission.

Bringing on new board members to your association is exciting—new energy, new ideas, new experience and knowledge. But how can you onboard new members quickly, consistently and make it beneficial, both for them and the organization?

“Proper onboarding not only engages that new board member, but also integrates them with the existing members,” says Cristine Carpluk, vice president of customer experience at OnBoard, a maker of board management technology.

“They probably have a good amount of expertise, but what does that mean to the board? And what is their responsibility when they walk into that boardroom?”

Before new board members report for service, here’s a top hits list to help you ensure a smooth and successful experience—the five Ps of onboarding.

No. 1: Purpose

It’s important to orient new board members about the association’s mission and ground them in how they can help deliver on its purpose.

“It’s really getting everyone in alignment, getting everyone educated, and creating bonds between new board members and existing board members,” Carpluk says. “And to really understand what the goals of the organization are and how the new members can be effective in their roles.”

No. 2: Present, Past and Future

It’s also valuable to set the stage for where the association is now, where it came from and where it wants to go—and the missions tied to those journeys. That might include sharing past meeting minutes; current and past financials; information on strengths and weaknesses; potential threats as well as opportunities; and underlying strategic plans.

“That’s where the whole digital transformation is super important for boards, especially right now with every board typically being remote because of COVID-19,” Carpluk says.

“Having a board management solution can provide all members with a central repository where they can access all those materials, whether it’s historical information, board meeting minutes, financials, who the people are, bylaws and committee charters.”
New members have a responsibility here too, she points out, to make sure they read through all the materials so they’re ready to be an engaged and effective addition to your board.

“It’s really getting everyone in alignment, getting everyone educated, and creating bonds between new board members and existing board members.” — Cristine Carpluk, OnBoard

No. 3: Process

Although board members rarely will be involved in day-to-day operations, they need to understand how work gets done—internal processes and interdependencies that affect decision-making. This information helps inform the questions the board will ask of the association’s director and other leaders.

Interestingly, as boards gain newer and younger members, those members have pushed back against manual information and practices, Carpluk says.
“Newer board members ask, ‘Why are we doing it this way? Why are you mailing me a book? I want to be able to grab my phone and vote. I don’t want to fax a piece of paper to you. I don’t want to log on to my laptop,” Carpluk says.

No. 4: People

Just as with processes and organizational context, new board members also need to learn about people—the association’s staff, its vendors, and other stakeholders.

“One thing I’ve seen done is for organizations, in the contacts section of board management solutions, to list more than just the board members,” Carpluk says. Adding teams like finance or the help desk can help board members be self-sufficient, she adds.

No. 5: Protection

New board members finally should also be informed of liability exposure.

“The first thing is to make sure the association has directors’ and officers’ insurance,” says Jason Tharpe, vice president of Affinity Nonprofits where he underwrites insurance for nonprofit organizations. “That might seem overly basic, but if it doesn’t, the personal assets of board members could be at stake.”

D&O insurance is needed in case something goes wrong from a managerial perspective—and even if not, if board members are named in litigation, he points out.

Associations should provide new board members with their policies, Tharpe says. Board members likely will want to have their own insurance brokers review specific exclusions. “When it is specified under exclusions, that’s what you want to know. What has the insurance carrier spelled out that’s not going to be covered?”

Tharpe also advises that beyond having the appropriate insurance—including additional coverage, such as employment practices liability insurance—associations should properly document all practices, policies and procedures as that will be critical in defending against any legal accusations.

Ultimately, preparing new board members before they begin is critical to the entire board and the association’s success, Carpluk and Tharpe both agree. As Carpluk succinctly puts it: “Then, new members will bring the value that they were tapped to bring, starting on day one.”

ASAE Business Solutions is a portfolio of essential enterprise solutions designed to help associations grow and prosper. We know associations, and we put that expertise to work every day to design, build, and deliver solutions that help you solve critical business needs, save time and money, and succeed in meeting your mission. See for yourself what a difference ASAE Business Solutions can make in your association’s efficiency, productivity, and bottom line. Visit asaebusinesssolutions.org.

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