As we continue exploring best practices for boards, this month’s article focuses on one of the basic building blocks used by best practice boards. There’s nothing really glamorous about having a board manual, but it is an essential tool that many new, or smaller, nonprofit organizations simply overlook. In its absence, new board members find themselves asking lots of questions as they attempt to understand the history and culture of the organization.
Board members may waste valuable time in meetings trying to find, remember, or reconstruct key historical events, policies, or decisions. The board book can be likened to a playbook used by coaches or political consultants. In a sense, it’s their bible or ultimate guide and they are lost without it.
Likewise, the board manual contains all vital information that board members need at their fingertips to conduct business on behalf of the nonprofit. As we discussed last month, it is important to help new board members quickly get acclimated to the culture and structure of the organization so they can “hit the ground running” and contribute to the governance process. Having an up-to-date board manual is an effective tool to educate new board members. Additionally, the board manual has great value for all board members and should be readily accessible in board meetings as questions arise regarding the by-laws, existing policies, or past board decisions.
Below is a list of items to include in the board manual. It is important to ensure each board member has the most current information.
Contact information and summary bios for all board members
- Board members’ terms (if your organization uses terms)
- Committee assignments
- Job descriptions
- Member agreement, covenant, or contract
KEY ORGANIZATIONAL DOCUMENTS
- Fact sheet or brief history with highlights and milestones
- Articles of Incorporation
- Letter of Determination from the IRS
- Mission and Vision Statements
- Strategic Plan (most current version)
- Operating Plan for current year
FINANCE AND FUNDRAISING INFORMATION
- Current budget
- Previous year’s final budget
- Form 990 (most recent)
- Most recent audit report (if applicable)
ESSENTIAL BOARD RELATED POLICIES
- Conflict of Interest
- Whistle Blower
- Document Retention and Destruction
- Investment Policy
- Organizational Chart
- Staff directory
- Minutes from recent board meetings (last 2 or 3)
- Calendar of key events (board meetings, fundraising events, etc.)
- Copy of Annual Report
- Copy of brochure
- Use a loose-leaf notebook to allow for easy update and expansion
- Organize the contents in an orderly fashion using a table of contents and section tabs or dividers
- Keep all information up to date (replace outdated materials)
- Date all items in the manual (Policy Updated July 27, 2009)
If you are going to create the first board manual for your organization you can download the Table of Contents to use as a guide. We’ve also included a link to a sample board manual so you can see what the finished product looks like.
Appoint a group to gather the organizational documents and information. This would probably include the Board Chair, Executive Director, and one or two others. If you have governance or board development committees, those chairpersons should also be involved. Gather all of the existing documents you have and assemble them into the manual. If you are a newer organization, collect what you have and insert the additional resources as they become available. If you need consulting help, please give us a call at 800/883-7196.