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6 Nonprofit Board Training Tips for Busy Fundraisers

10 min read
December 17, 2020
Ronnie Gomez
computer open to a training document

If you’ve ever gotten frustrated with your board, you’re not alone. Getting (and keeping!) board members engaged with and excited about their work are some of the biggest challenges for nonprofits. Whether you want your board members to be more involved in fundraising or wish they’d help out more with your programming, the secret to building the board of your dreams may lie in the way you approach their onboarding experience when they join.

The first step toward getting board members engaged is to communicate their responsibilities clearly. This can be hard! In fact, according to the 2020 Nonprofit Leadership Impact Study, 49% of nonprofits listed establishing clear roles and expectations for board members as a key challenge influencing the effectiveness of their board

Once your board members understand their responsibilities, the next step is to guide them through an onboarding process that gets them comfortable with those requirements.

Why You Need a Nonprofit Board Member Orientation Program

Joining a nonprofit board involves a pretty steep learning curve. Every organization has its own unique mission, processes, bylaws, programming, and quirks. Even if your new board member has previous experience serving other nonprofits, they’ve never served with your nonprofit.

Without proper guidance, the process of adjusting to a new board position can be intimidating. In worst-case scenarios, some board members never find their footing and leave at or before the conclusion of their term. Even under the best of circumstances, they may not be able to serve as effectively as they would if their onboarding was more thorough.

Board orientation programs help prevent new board members from feeling overwhelmed by their position, establish clear expectations for their involvement, and equip them to be effective advisors and advocates for your nonprofit. 

These five tips for onboarding and training your board will help. Let’s dive in!

6 Tips for an Effective Nonprofit Board Training Program

A thorough nonprofit board training program should help your board members understand your organization and how they’ll help you succeed. Here are six tips that will help.

Create an Onboarding Packet for Better Board Training

Giving new board members all the information they’ll need during their tenure is important! Studies have shown that organizations with a standard onboarding process in place experience 50% greater productivity with new talent, and giving them important information upfront will help them get through the process smoothly.

Some elements you may want to consider providing include:

  • Your organization’s mission and vision statements
  • An overview of your work, including information about who you serve, a summary of each of your programs, and numbers that help them understand the scope of your work (think about things like how many people you served last year or impact statements)
  • Copies of your certificate of incorporation, IRS determination letter, and any state-specific tax exemption documentation
  • The names and contact information of other board members
  • A copy of your organization’s rules and bylaws
  • Copies of recent financial statements
  • A calendar of upcoming board meetings and events

Equipping your new board member with important information about your organization and the way you operate will help them understand why their responsibilities are important and how their service will make a difference.

Communicate Your Expectations

It’s important, so we’re gonna say it again: Every person on your board should understand exactly what they are required to do. Conversations about their involvement and what it entails should happen before they agree to serve, but they should also be reiterated during the onboarding process. 

Set clear expectations about how they’re expected to support your organization. Some items to consider adding include:

  • Attendance requirements
  • Requirements for fundraising support
  • Personal giving expectations
  • Specific requirements for committees
  • Expectations about event attendance

It’s also important to reiterate your expectations during an in-person conversation in addition to documenting them in your onboarding packet. New board members should feel comfortable asking questions about what is expected of them! It’s important that they know right away if they will be able to fulfill your requirements.

Teach Your Nonprofit Board About Fundraising

Many nonprofits struggle to get their board members involved in fundraising. Even if you clearly communicate that they’re required to support your development team, they may be reluctant to do so. That’s normal!

Do you remember the first time you sent an email appeal or sat down with a donor to make an ask? How nervous were you?

Your board members are probably nervous, too. As a general rule, they won’t be experienced fundraisers.

Intentionally teaching them about how they can support your development goals will help them overcome the anxiety of being a first-time fundraiser.

Talking about fundraising during your board training is important! Try doing it in small groups, like the people in this picture. They’re sitting in a circle, holding coffee cups. A woman in the foreground is making eye contact with the camera and smiling.
Good fundraising training will make your board members feel more comfortable when they’re asked to get involved with your development activities.

One great tactic for accomplishing this comes from Rachel Muir, who suggests putting together a “menu” of fundraising activities to give new board members (she didn’t ask us to include her here, we just really like her board member training!). 

Board members may not feel comfortable asking their friends for a major gift, but they might be willing to:

  • Host a fundraising event
  • Invite friends, family, or colleagues to one of your fundraising events
  • Create a peer-to-peer fundraising page they can use to ask friends and family for donations
  • Share a story or testimonial that supports an appeal
  • Ask local businesses (even their own employers!) for financial or in-kind donations
  • Share your appeals, updates, and stories on their social media channels

Ask each board member to commit to 2-5 fundraising activities and be ready to answer questions about how you’ll support them. Giving your board members specific information about how they can help you fundraise will help eliminate a lot of the fear they may feel about fundraising.

While you’re talking about how board members can support your development team, make sure to include information about your nonprofit’s unique fundraising strategies and events. 

Explain your current fundraising activities, important events, and your goals. You’ll have a much easier time getting someone to attend your annual fundraising gala, for example, when they know when it is, what it funds, and the fundraising goals for your event.

Give Board Members the Resources They Need

What tools and information will your board members need as they support your work?

The list of resources they’ll need to access will vary depending on each person’s committee activities and how they’ve decided to participate in fundraising. That said, here are some basic tools and information you should consider providing.

Marketing and Fundraising Materials

Board members who raise money on your behalf, help with emails and other communications, or share your work on social media will be most successful if they have the right resources at their fingertips.

Make sure they know how to access:

  • Mission statements and program information (these will be in their board member packet)
  • Logos, approved pictures and videos, brand guidelines, and other resources they might want to use
  • Information about your organization’s social media channels and posting guidelines
  • Existing marketing materials like brochures or links to key webpages
  • Impact statements and stories they can use when they share your organization with their networks

Check in with your board members periodically to see what other resources they might want, too. They might need periodic updates to some of these assets!

Campaign and Program Data

All of your board members should have a basic understanding of your organization’s financial standings, campaign performance, and progress toward your goals. People who serve on your finance committee will need even more information! 

Make sure you provide them with:

  • Historical financial reports
  • Your current financial and programmatic goals
  • Your current progress toward those goals
  • Access to regular financial reports
  • Access to your nonprofit CRM, if appropriate

If you’re a Neon CRM user, you have a few options here.
Your account includes unlimited users, so you can easily set up user accounts for your board members. If you do so, you may want to create a special user group that includes custom permissions that give board members access only to the parts of your CRM that are necessary. Here’s where you can read more about user groups and permissions.

This is a screenshot of the interface for adding new users to Neon CRM, which is an important part of the board training and onboarding process.
During your board training and onboarding, take some time to get your board members set up with your CRM and other necessary tools.

You can also create and schedule reports for your board members. Try creating a report on an event or fundraising campaign, then scheduling it to be sent automatically to board members on a set basis!

This is a screenshot of the interface Neon CRM users use to create and schedule reports.
Even if your CRM isn’t part of your board training, it’s important to keep board members up to date on your progress toward your goals. Scheduling reports in advance can be a great way to keep them in the know.

Pair Board Members With a Mentor

The buddy system—though usually associated with school field trips and safety precautions—is helpful for board member orientation and onboarding, too. Connecting your new board member with an established one is a great way to ensure their onboarding goes smoothly and that they have access to a peer who can answer their questions and share their experience. When picking a mentor, think about who best exemplifies the standard you want to set for board involvement.

This doesn’t necessarily require that a board mentor spend huge amounts of time coaching a newer addition. Simply knowing who to contact when a new member has questions can be tremendously reassuring. When you pair your new members with a mentor, make sure they swap contact information.

Remember: Nonprofit Board Training Is a Process

Training for nonprofit board members isn’t a one-time activity—it’s an ongoing process!

It’s important to periodically check in with your board members and make sure everyone’s familiar with your requirements, important organizational procedures, fundraising guidelines, and other core information. 

If you recruit and onboard new members on a regular schedule (say, annually or biannually), schedule time in the first board meeting of that cycle to review board commitments with everyone. 

Board retreats are also an invaluable opportunity to train new and established board members alike on specific disciplines or activities. You could arrange an annual board retreat to teach them about fundraising, community engagement, or other skills that will be important during their time on your board.

When your board member training is a regular part of your interactions with them, it will be easier for them to feel confident and capable of fulfilling their responsibilities.

Nonprofit Board Training Will Help Board Members (and Your Nonprofit) Succeed

Everyone benefits from a board that runs better. Creating an onboarding packet for your newest members and establishing expectations up front will help prevent misunderstandings about what is required of them. Teaching them about fundraising and pairing each new member with a mentor will make them feel more comfortable as they work to support your mission, and providing ongoing training and support will increase the likelihood that they stay engaged during the length of their time on your board. 

If you’re looking for tools that will help you train new nonprofit board members, you might like our Board Member Orientation Checklist. Grab your copy today and get started!

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