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Best Practices for On-Boarding New Trustees - Part 1

By Cynthia Woolbright

Bringing new trustees on board offers great and unique opportunities to inspire and engage them in your work.

Let’s begin with some assumptions on how and why individuals were asked to join the Board of Trustees, based on the Governance Committee research and assistance, such as:

  1. building a pipeline for new and future trustees;
  2. identifying and confirming the talent, skills and experience;
  3. cultivating candidates prior to asking them to join; strategies established

After conducting and assessing the expertise and characteristics grid to build the pipeline, strategies are established to further cultivate potential members. Tactics may include inviting prospects to events, participating in discussions with a small group of trustees, or touring the campus, etc. We want prospective trustees to have experience with the Board and key leaders of the institution and see them “in action” so the Governance Committee can learn more about them and help them better understand the commitment, expectations, and fiduciary responsibilities of the Board.

After collecting feedback on each of the experiences, members of the Board and other leadership, the Governance Committee vets candidates in alignment with the priorities of the college and identifies the current board members assigned as to serve as mentors for the new trustees. Now we want to begin full engagement with nominated board members, even prior to them beginning their official start on the board. The Governance Committee’s recommendations for new trustees are voted on and approved at a Board meeting.

The Governance Committee Chair contacts the individuals and lets them know they were elected and include their Class year as well as when they will officially join the board. Then the Chair of the Board and the President should send a joint letter of welcome and provide important dates, advises the candidate of the board member who will serve as their mentor for their first year, and shares the upcoming year’s schedule. To be most effective in the on-boarding process, newly elected trustees should attend a board meeting prior to beginning their term. Invite them to attend, observe that meeting and meet the Board members. (Note: this may require the recommendations to come to the Board for election.) The individuals should also participate in any other non-meeting functions to get to know the current trustees and begin to develop their own relationship with these members prior to their official start.

Some boards hold planning retreats and the newly elected members should attend and participate, even if their formal term has not begun. This is yet another opportunity for their effective “on-boarding” as a trustee. Prior to the retreat their mentor should arrange a meeting to provide an overview and perspective on the coming year and share any key questions that may be discussed at the upcoming planning session. This is another chance for interaction and continuing to build a relationship with the new board trustee.

Each contact with prospective and newly elected trustees also offers the team an opportunity to begin to build an in-depth profile of their interests, preferences, professional expertise and social and professional network. All this information should be used to build a comprehensive profile of your new board member – information that can be used to identify future assignments and giving opportunities that might be of interest as well as helping the institution connect with the trustee’s network.

We’ll discuss more to this vital process in our next posting. Stay tuned!

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