The Essentials of Educating Your Board of Directors

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

Education forms the foundation from which most everything else is created, making it one of the wisest investments a nonprofit can expend its precious resources on. Nowhere is this truer than taking the time to educate your board of directors so that they are best prepared to serve your organization and its clients.

Keep in mind that many nonprofits do not formally educate their board members. Often a nonprofit will assume that if someone is a professional or a leader in their industry that they will already know all there is to know in order to be an effective member of the board. In the end this assumption can lead to increased risk and liability for your organization.

Here we offer our tips for ways to educate your board that will offer a return on investment many times over!

  • From day one, it is essential for new board members to understand their roles and responsibilities; knowing what is expected of them will encourage the confidence they need to be the leaders of your agency – and your clients – are counting on
  • Customize educational opportunities to fit the needs of your board; applicable areas of concentration for most nonprofit boards include financial literacy, governance, and strategic planning, among others
    • More often than not there are board members who do not understand how to read a balance sheet, a profit/loss statement, or any of the other financial data reports which typically need review and a vote, including, but not limited to, the annual budget and the elements contained within
  • Be creative! While boards are typically diverse with members bringing different skills to the table, consider educating them on mission-specific areas of your nonprofit; for example, teach them about the foster care or adoption process or about how your homeless shelter changes the lives of its clients for the better
  • Educating has a multiplier effect – the more effectively you educate your board members (especially regarding the agency’s mission), the more knowledge they gain and are able to share with others throughout the communities you serve and strengthen relationships that can support your organization well into the future
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