Bringing New Board Members on Board

How can stories make your new board member welcome?

How can stories make your new board member welcome?

You’ve been wooing her for months, and finally she says yes. Congratulations! You have a new Board member.

What does your Board member need to know, and how will he or she find out?

Of course, you should share official documents. For nonprofits, those might include the by-laws, descriptions of the Board’s and the Executive Director’s responsibilities, the strategic plan, the budget, and the annual report. If you’re in business, you may need to go heavier on financial matters early on and share the audit and recent statements.

But a lot of organizations remember to share the details and forget to tell the story.

The Story Makes It Clear

A nonprofit organization where I used to work was proud that it had recruited the Director of Administration & Finance from a state association to its Board. After a year, he agreed to become the Treasurer. Then, one of his personal friends fell on hard times and used our services.

“Wow,” he said, “I didn’t know we did that!” And “Wow,” he said, “I didn’t know we could do that!” He told the story of how the organization had helped his friend forever after.

A happy ending, yes. But what if he didn’t happen to know any of our clients personally? We would have failed him—because we should have told him a story like that when he came on board.

What Stories Should You Tell a New Board Member?

Along with the packet of documents, make sure to give your new Board members stories to remember.

Stories About How You Got Started. What burning question did your organization try to solve? What interesting characters took up the challenge? What adversity have you faced, and how are you succeeding?

Stories About How You Work.What can people expect from your organization? If you do your very best job, what will be the result?

Stories That Demonstrate Your Values.Once upon a time, I put together a newsletter for my agency. We were ready to mail it when the client who was the central figure in the lead article came in and said, “I don’t want my photo and my story in your newsletter.” His caseworker and the receptionist looked to see how I’d react.

“You own your story,” I said. “We will throw out the newsletters we’ve printed and redo the issue.” The story of what I had done circulated through the agency–and it said more about our values than any memo could ever do.

Look for your stories. Write them down. Pass them out. Ask the people who tell them best to mentor your new Board member. That’s how she or he will really understand what it means to be responsible for your organization.

About the Author

Dennis Fischman owns Communicate! Consulting, where he helps local businesses and nonprofit organizations win loyal friends through their communications. He is a former senior manager of the Community Action Agency of Somerville, where he directed fundraising, marketing, and planning. Passionate about social change, he left this position so he could focus on helping tell their stories in person, in writing, and through the social media.

Dennis Fischman – who has written posts on Developing High Performing Teams.


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