Effectively On-Boarding your Board Members

When financial statements are presented at your board meeting, what kinds of questions are asked? Do you get the occasional question about a variance, or a robust discussion about whether the budget matches the organization’s strategic plan or an inquiry into internal controls?

The discussion you have and how productive it is both depend on how well your board understands its role relative to financial oversight. This is impacted by how effective your on-boarding process for new board members has been.

In our experience, the most effective on-boarding programs incorporate the following elements:

The Right Information

Most not-for-profit organizations provide a binder of information to new board members, and ask them to read through it before orientation begins. Ideally, the binder should include:

  • The board member’s job description, including a description of his/her duties of good faith, loyaltyand care
  • Bylaws
  • The current strategic plan
  • The organizational chart for the non-profit’s staff
  • Minutes for previous meetings
  • Committee overviews and assignments
  • Board contact information
  • The current budget and recent financial statements
  • The organization’s most recent Form 990
  • The organization’s mission, vision and values
  • Current materials describing the organization and making a case for support
  • Current messaging for board member use

Contextual Orientation

While most not-for-profits provide information, many forget to provide the context for that information. In particularly, we recommend making sure new board members get:

  • A tour of the not-for-profit facility or facilities so that they have a solid understanding of the organization’s operations, and
  • Introductions to key staff members

Adequate Training

Many not-for-profit board members have limited experience with nonprofit financial statement analysis. Those who do have financial background may not have experience with not-for-profit financials, or may not understand their responsibilities relative to financial statement and Form 990 review. The most effective on-boarding processes incorporate some form of financial training into the board orientation. The most common approaches (and related resources) include:

A Framework for On-Going Support

Regardless of how effective your training is during orientation, much of it will be lost by the time the board member reaches her second or third year – or even her second or third meeting – on the board. To help board members continue to develop financial skills year around, consider:

  • A buddy program that pairs a new board member with one who is leaving the board. This person can serve as a sounding board for concerns a new board member might feel hesitant to share in a broader meeting.
  • Ongoing training during and outside of board meetings. Take advantage of the plethora of newsletters, training programs and reference information. Incorporate mini-training into every financial statement review with your broader board (and your nonprofit audit/finance committee) so that they continue to learn, and pass along links to training outside the organization.

Does your organization have an on-boarding practice that is particularly effective? Share it with us! We’ll pass along any tips we get in a future Communique newsletter.

Authors

  • Howard Donkin, CPA, Jacobson Jarvis Tax Partner, has more than 20 years’ experience in serving the not-for-profit community.

    Howard is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the Washington Society of Certified Public Accountants (WSCPA), the Washington Secretary of State’s Charities Advisory Council and the AICPA Exempt Organization Technical Resource Panel to study tax issues for not-for-profits.

    He was a past chair of the WSCPA’s Not-for-Profit Committee, Bellevue Schools Foundation’s finance committee and the Bellevue Arts Commission. Howard is a frequent speaker and author on not-for-profit tax issues and is on the Advisory Board of the Exempt Organization Tax Review.

  • Julleen Snyder, CPA, CGMA, Partner has been with Jacobson Jarvis since 1995. She has both practical experience working as a controller within a not-for-profit organization, as well as auditing experience with Ernst & Young and Jacobson Jarvis. This multi-disciplinary experience provides her with a unique perspective of the client's issues combined with the ability to implement timely, appropriate solutions. You can contact Julleen by email or phone at (206) 812-5474

  • Erin Welch, CPA, Partner, has been working exclusively with nonprofits for over 20 years and is committed to helping her not-for-profit clients achieve their missions by better understanding their financial statements and systems. Her goal is to help her clients improve by providing insight, training, resources, and suggestions and by being an approachable advisor. Erin is passionate about our sector and the role she gets to play in your amazing and diverse missions.