Welcome to the board of directors!

Effective organizations provide a board handbook to every board member for a comprehensive overview of its current state of affairs as well as historical information.

You have been asked to serve on the board of a nonprofit organization. You probably know that it involves a serious commitment of time, teamwork and attention to detail. Why do you agree to serve? You are likely interested because of the opportunity to give personal time and talent to a meaningful cause. Do you want to learn more about the details of the organization, yet wonder where to begin?

Many organizations provide a board handbook for their directors, and may share with potential board members. This is a great resource for both new and existing board members to learn the basics of the organization, and keep track of related important and historical information. In fact, people considering a board appointment may be convinced that this is right for them, after reviewing the board handbook. So, according to Michigan State University Extension, what should be included in this handbook?

  • History of the Organization
    When was the organization formed? What were the circumstances that led to its development? Who were the original founders that led the charge to take on the work of the organization and why were they interested?
  • Organization Vision Statement and Mission Statement
    The actual work of the organization must be in agreement with the mission statement and will lead to accomplishing the vision for the future.
  • Current Board Members / Officers / Executive Committee
    Who are the other board members? What are their addresses, emails and phone numbers if you would like to contact them for further discussion? What are various position descriptions that board members hold, and what are the specific terms of appointment for each?
  • Regular Board meeting dates
    Include time and location for each date. This will ensure that board members can set their calendars to ensure they have future meeting dates locked in.
  • Organization ByLaws
    Bylaws are your organization’s operating manual. Bylaws will include:
    • the size of the board and how it will function
    • roles and duties of directors and officers
    • rules and procedures for holding meetings, electing directors, and appointing officers
    • conflict of interest policies and procedures
    • other items determined as critical to operations
  • Rules of operation
    These rules can specify details of ordinary procedure that should not be included in the official bylaws. Such items could include definitions, typical agenda format, procedures for workshops and committees, guidelines for making motions and other useful information.
  • Committee(s) structure and responsibilities / expectations
    What are the standing committees? Are there any ad-hoc committees? What are the expectations, responsibilities and authorities of these groups?
  • Strategic operating plan
    This section will describe the framework to accomplish the mission of the organization. How will the work be accomplished? A timeline of major activities will provide an overview of the upcoming year’s events. Look for annual goals, including measurable objectives and action-oriented tasks to get work done.
  • Annual operating budget
    How are the financial resources of the organization allocated? What are the priorities for spending? Take a look at monthly and annual treasurer’s reports to become familiar with how the money flows through the organization.
  • Prior meeting agendas
    Include meeting minutes with agendas to help gain a more complete picture of how the board operates and how decisions are made.
  • Executive Director reports
    This history is very useful to get a synopsis of the important activities of the organization.
  • Annual reports of the organization
    Review past annual report to more fully develop an understanding of where the organization concentrated efforts.

Successful organizations find that taking time to develop and effectively maintain a board handbook is a valuable investment in their current and future board of directors.

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