Board development: How to transform your board into leaders

Your board of directors is in charge of leading your organisation toward a sustainable and successful future. Learn how to improve leadership on your board.

Few board members will join your organisation with perfect leadership skills. For most of your board members, opportunities for their professional development will be vital for refining their skills and helping your organisation make powerful strides towards its objectives. 

Board development is an ongoing process that will differ from organisation to organisation. However, regardless if you work at a for-profit business or a mission-driven organisation, you can help your board succeed with a development process that includes formal training, mentoring from existing leaders, research on industry news, and implementation of governance best practices. 

Comprehensive training is a vital part of any board’s development, even for members who have prior experience serving a board of directors. To help transform your board members into leaders who can excel at your organisation, this article will cover three key development tips. 

Determine what skills you need on the board

As the executive director or CEO at your organisation, you understand the direction in which you want the organisation to go. It’s up to you to communicate this vision and give your board the resources to support it. You can set your board up for success in supporting your mission right from the start by recruiting board members with the unique skills your organisation needs. 

To transform board members into leaders, hold regular meetings and consistently communicate between them. 

First, determine what skills, knowledge, and personalities you’ll need to assemble on your board to achieve your organisation’s overall vision. These skills will vary but might include:

  • Networking expertise 
  • Fundraising experience
  • Marketing knowledge
  • Financial planning skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Public speaking and presenting skills

Assess the current board’s strengths and weaknesses to determine what gaps need to be filled. For example, if you have a board with many friendly personalities who enjoy speaking to people, you will likely have strong networking potential.

However, on this same board, you might also find that very few of your board members enjoy reviewing and discussing in-depth but vital reports that are necessary for following long-term financial plans. 

In this example, you could proceed to assign board members to positions where their natural people skills would allow them to thrive, like funder outreach. Then, you would write out a description of the skills and responsibilities you need in future board members and begin recruiting. 


Solidify the onboarding process

Finding the right people that fit your ideal board member persona is only the first step to building an impactful board. Even highly experienced board members will need to be familiarised with the nuances of working at your organisation before they can become truly effective leaders. 

This is where your onboarding process comes in: welcoming new board members and catching them up to speed with everyday routines and practices. Your onboarding process will take place either during or before the first official board meeting and will include: 

  • Welcoming and introducing the new board members to their colleagues. You are likely familiar with the concept of icebreakers. Though some of them might be cheesy, they serve a purpose: helping to familiarise your new board members with their colleagues. After all, your new board members will likely feel more comfortable discussing serious matters that impact your organisation’s future if they already have a rapport with the rest of the board. 
  • Having a returning member show them the ropes. Individual mentoring will require one of your returning board members to take time away from their responsibilities, but this has a high potential return on investment. New board members will have a dedicated person they can approach for help and are likely to form a positive professional connection with their mentor. 

Even after arming your board members with all the necessary documents in your welcome packet, you’ll still need to provide ongoing training to further develop their skills. This may sound like a lot of work, but remember that board development is an ongoing process that encourages your board members to continually evaluate and improve their skills. 

Communicate consistently

To transform board members into leaders, hold regular meetings and consistently communicate between them. Poor communication can kill otherwise effective boards, but purposeful and organised communication can help elevate your board’s conversations and decision-making processes. Here are a few best practices you can employ when running a board meeting

  • Maximise every moment together with a detailed agenda that’s sent out ahead of meetings. Your board members should never be surprised by your meetings’ content. Provide your agenda in advance so they can prepare questions and insights to share with their teammates. 
  • Hold board members accountable for their tasks. Whether they are mentoring a new board member or leading a vital fundraising initiative, you’ll need to document which board members are responsible for which tasks and ensure they fulfill their duties. 
  • Offer resources for them to read between meetings. Some of your board members will take the initiative to stay updated on industry news and continually improve their understanding of board best practices. However, most of your members likely have busy schedules, and sending them industry news and organisational updates can help them stay updated and engaged at your next meeting. 

Consistent communication keeps their commitment to your organisation top of mind. Plus, effective communication will eliminate time spent clarifying misunderstandings, allowing your board members to devote more time to serving your organisation. 

Board development is an ongoing process that, when given appropriate focus, can transform your board members into leaders. Start by recruiting the right people for your board. Then give them the resources they need through a comprehensive onboarding process and regular, consistent communication.


About the author

Jeb Banner is the founder and CEO of Boardable.


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