Preparing New Board Members
You’ve likely heard the following from new board volunteers: “I really wasn’t prepared for what I was getting into,” “it took me a year to really understand what goes into this role” or “I could have used some more guidance regarding my responsibilities.” An effective board transition will ensure that board members never say such things and one of the best ways to prepare new board members is through mentoring.

Once a succession plan has been developed and implemented and the successors for volunteer positions have been elected or appointed, there is still one key issue that must be addressed: ensuring continuity and momentum from that position. This is when a mentoring approach can make a great impact.

Leading practices in mentoring call for outgoing board members—as part of their board roles and responsibilities—to be tasked with reaching out to newly elected or appointed individuals filling their positions. A series of expected outreach points then follow, which can vary depending on the timing of the transition and events. The example presented below is focused on an association that transitions leadership roles during an annual conference.
  • Post-election, pre-conference orientation—An outgoing board member will call a newly elected board member to welcome him or her to the board, share general information about the role – both as an individual board member and within the larger board – and to explain the expectations of board members at the annual conference.
  • Transition report—To ensure that outreach has taken place, outgoing board members will send an official transition report to the incoming president outlining the progress of the transition and plans for next steps. This report must be received within a month of the transition.
  • Annual conference face-to-face meeting—The annual conference is the perfect opportunity for a scheduled face-to-face, one-on-one session with the outgoing board member, focusing on board history, culture, strategy and any questions regarding roles and expectations.
  • Ongoing mentoring program—It is essential that the new board members understand that the transition is not finished at the conclusion of the annual conference. Options for ongoing mentoring include regular emails and updates, a scheduled monthly call and other calls as needed.
  • Official board member orientation—The chief staff executive should conduct an official orientation within one month following the annual conference, with a focus on the mentoring policy and ongoing board resources.
There are other ways to ensure smooth transitions, but using mentoring can help eliminate a lot of confusion and gray areas for volunteers. At the very least, it is worth exploring what your association is doing now to maintain momentum when your board positions transition. Enhancing that process will make everyone’s job easier, which will lead to more strategic meetings and a more cohesive board.


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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for 70 years.


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