3 Simple Steps to Develop a Nonprofit Board Education Plan

I have had numerous conversations with nonprofit CEOs and EDs who complain about the lack of support from their board of directors.  When probed further I find a lack of a board education plan.  There is no orientation, no education on their roles and responsibilities and no ongoing development plan.   Yet CEOs and EDs expect the board to be strategic. provide oversight of the organization, focus on fundraising…and their fiduciary role…and provide hands-on help to staff.  

All the blame does not fall on the CEOs and EDs many savvy businesspeople get on nonprofit boards and check their business hats at the door.  

This combination does not make for a high performing board. Board performance is a critical ingredient in a nonprofit organization’s ability to achieve impact.

A nonprofit board is only as strong as the education and direction that they receive.  Having a board approved education plan can take your organization to the next level.

An effective board education plan is not generic. It is tailored to the organization.  Here are three simple steps you can start now to begin to develop your plan.

1.     Host a board orientation.  If your organization has never conducted an orientation, consider having every member of the board attend.  In fact, some nonprofits host annual orientations for board members.  The board orientation is 1-2 hours in length and should include:

·       mission and vision statements

 ·       organizational history

·       bylaws and policies

·       strategic plan

·       financial summaries

·       board expectation

·       committee information and

·       meeting processes

2. Poll board members to determine the education gap and to build consensus about what training is needed.  An open, productive conversation must take place: about what the board’s role should be, how the board is doing, and what the most important priorities for improvement are. Take 15 minutes at your next board meeting and ask board members to help develop the board’s upcoming education plan. Have the board brainstorm answers to the following questions:

• What do you wish you had known when you started on the board, to help you make more informed decisions?

• What information do you feel you are lacking, even now?

In addition, the CEO/ED should share what areas of the organization they feel the board doesn’t understand well enough to make informed decisions. 

Don’t skip this step.  The CEO/ED should not rely totally on their discretion to determine what the board needs to know to do the job. When the board is actively involved in determining the contents of its own education plan, you will find there is far more interest from those board members about what they need to learn. And you will further find there is far more interest in having all board members attend!

3. Once there is a consensus about needed training the board can plan to add 15 minutes or ½ hour to each board meeting, to start your board’s ongoing education program with topics board members themselves have said they want to learn.

If conducting training at each board meeting seems to be daunting, consider the board education plan that I used as a CEO.  1 hour was added to a board meeting once a quarter to conduct in-depth training.   Board briefs were included bi-monthly on the board meeting agenda.  Board briefs were articles on different topics that were included as part of the agenda materials.  The brief was summarized and presented during the board meeting by a preassigned board member. If the article generated a lot of discussions it became apparent what areas the board needed to work on in the future.

Creating an ongoing education plan ensures your board knows what it is accountable for, whom it is accountable to, and most importantly, how to “do” their job which is necessary to drive your nonprofit’s mission forward.

I hope this helps. Your feedback is appreciated.  Leave a comment below on the tools and resources you use for board education.  Sharing is caring.

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