This post originally appeared on Connection Cafe on April 26, 2012.  When we think about having a strong fundraising board it can be tempting to think about filling your board with lots of big name individuals that you expect to write huge checks. In reality, these people may have no real connection to your cause. And if you are lucky enough that they do, they may be too busy to either commit to board services or worse, they’ll commit and never show up at meetings. 

Too often, eager to fill a vacant seat or secure a well-known name, we fail to clearly articulate expectations of service to prospective board members, or downplay the expectations of service.

“There is no question that orienting new board members to their responsibilities, especially around fundraising, is critical,” says Linda Crompton, BoardSource President and CEO. “In our 2010 Nonprofit Governance Index, BoardSource found that 90% of the boards with a structured orientation process were rated as effective, compared to only 67% of the boards without such a process.”

In addition to a job description, prospective board members should receive a board manual and board contract to help them understand and be successful in their role.

Board Manual

“Board manuals can be a key resource in facilitating the work of a board member. New members should receive a manual when they join the board and be encouraged to use it to track or manage all of their work. A board manual can also be used as the basis for an orientation training session. Board members report higher satisfaction when they participate in a formal, in-person orientation, and reviewing the content of the board manual will ensure that new members are consistently and thoroughly oriented to the work of the board and the organization.” –Greenlights for Nonprofit Success

Templates for organizing your board manual are available through many organizations. For one set of examples, check out the free board resources from our friends at Greenlights for Nonprofit Success.

Board Contract

One of the most critical pieces of content in your board manual is your board contract.  Ideally your contract lays out the following:

  • Individual gifts the board member will make
  • Fundraising the board member performs on behalf of the organization
  • Program attendance
  • Committee participation

Don’t forget the signature at the end, and make sure you each get a copy. 

Board members are your most committed volunteers. By providing them with excellent training and clear expectations, you are showing that you value them as exactly that.