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Empower Board "Newbies" to Lead with Confidence

The success of new nonprofit board members heavily depends on their onboarding experience. This process is crucial for making them feel welcomed into your nonprofit family.

During onboarding, it is essential to expose new board members to the organization's mission, vision, values, and history. Sharing testimonies from the impacted community the organization serves helps them to see, feel, and understand what is needed to support them. Deeply connecting board members to the mission ensures they can effectively advise on the nonprofit’s direction and help them to see how they are changing the world!

A Thorough Orientation

Invite each new board member to introduce themselves, share something personal, and explain why they are excited to serve. This orientation should take place before their first board meeting and include introductions to key staff, volunteers, and other board members. The orientation should feel relaxed and comfortable, with the CEO sharing a "mission moment" to remind the new members of the impact they will make. This could involve a tour of the site or office, providing an immersive experience of daily life, needs, and challenges of the organization. Such transparency helps build trust from the onset.

Understanding the Ecosystem

Educating board members about the ecosystem in which your nonprofit operates means exposing them to community and client challenges, the work of like-minded organizations, lobbyists, and others who influence relevant policies and laws. Provide them with a list of competitor nonprofits and their board members, as well as information on industry partners and groups that will impact the organization’s decisions. Understanding the problem your organization addresses is vital for effective board leadership.

Reemphasize Your Culture of Inclusion and Power Sharing

The message that your nonprofit embraces an inclusive culture should be clear. The Board Chair should communicate and model that every member is welcomed as their authentic selves, each bringing needed individual skills and lived experience. Encouraging diversity of thought (dissenting is ok) will help to generate innovative ideas, challenge policies, and increase productivity. Emphasize that all voices, including new ones, matter and will be heard. This helps foster respect for differences and empowers new board members to take on board leadership roles when openings arise.

Assign a Board Mentor

Creating connections early on is beneficial. Pairing a seasoned board member with a new one helps the “newbie” understand the culture, expectations, operations, and communication methods of the board.

Share a Comprehensive Board Toolkit

Many organizations use board portals to store important documents in one place. In the board toolkit essential documents should include bylaws, conflict of interest statements, and board contracts. Organizational documents like the strategic plan, annual report, and budget should also be available in the portal. Disseminating organizational data aids in decision-making and creates strong ambassadors for your organization. Access my board toolkit here, Nonprofit Board Toolkit V1 | The Board Pro. For a user-friendly board portal, check out

Underscore the Importance of Fundraising

Fundraising is an essential role of the board. Continual training about what fundraising is and isn’t will help relieve the stress some board members associate with raising funds. Providing them with the tools they need to advocate, promote, and solicit financial support will make this important board responsibility much easier.

Schedule One-on-One Meetings with the Board Chair and CEO

New board members should meet with the Board Chair and CEO twice a year to understand their executive leadership roles and the importance of their relationship. During these meetings, the Board Chair should ask new members how their board service can be meaningful to them, reinforcing that board service is a reciprocal relationship. Engaged and happy board members will remain enthusiastic when they see how their contributions further the mission.

Invite them to serve on Committees

Before the orientation ends, the Chair or Co-Chair should present the responsibilities of the board committees. Invite new members to join a committee that aligns with their interests and skills, encouraging immediate engagement and connection. This conveys the message: “Jump right in. Your skills are needed and welcomed.”

Build Happy, Healthy, and Empowered Board Members

By following these tips, nonprofits can ensure new board members feel welcomed and excited about their leadership journey. A comprehensive and engaging onboarding process fosters commitment and alignment with the organization’s mission and values. It also emboldens new members to take the reins and lead with confidence, purpose, and determination to see their nonprofit flourish.

Christal M. Cherry, The Board Pro, partners with organizations to properly welcome and onboard new members. To learn about this service and to book a consultation, visit

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