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Why You Need a Board Manual

by Judy Chambers

In today’s virtual world, it’s so easy to orient new board members. You just point them to your website, and if you use Dropbox, Google Docs or a similar application, you give them access and the secret password. Now they can study the organization’s history, policies and other relevant documents at their convenience, and come to board meetings with a solid understanding of who you are and how you operate. Right?

Well maybe. But probably not. Even new board members with the best of intentions need some direction in finding out what they need to know. They need a board manual. If you’re old school – or your board members are – the manual is in a 3-ring binder for members to have and to hold. Or you can have an online manual, with all of the materials organized in one place for easy access. (Another option for the online version is to create a mega-document which contains the entire manual, such as a pdf.) You might want to have your board manual in both formats, and offer board members their choice of hard copy or online.

Putting the manual together isn’t hard. Make a list of the documents that provide background and explain your organization’s current status. Here’s an example:

· Organizational documents: articles of incorporation, current bylaws, agreements (if any) with partner agencies

· Board Resources: organizational chart and staff list, list of board members, list of committees, current budget, meeting calendar, conflict of interest policy, directors and officers insurance

· Program Information: annual report, strategic plan, most recent monthly program reports, grant application narratives

· Background: history of the organization, marketing materials

Your list will look different depending on what materials are important for your board members. The categories in this example may not make sense for your organization – so customize and rearrange until the manual is meaningful.

Consider recruiting some of your veteran board members to help create the manual. Ask them what would have been most helpful for them when they first joined the board. Likewise, consider asking a recent board appointee the same question.

Sound easy? It really is. But there is one challenge – keeping the manual up to date. When your bylaws are amended, or your strategic plan is revised, or your organizational chart changes, you need to provide copies of the updated documents to board members, whether hard copy or online. Here’s a tip – when new board members are appointed, the list of board members will need to be revised. Use that event as a trigger to check the rest of the board manual to make sure it’s still current.

One last thought: to truly impress, motivate and energize your new board members, meet with them in person. Show them the materials in the manual and explain why they’re in there. Thank them for coming aboard, and present them with your gift – their very own copy of the manual. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it!


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