Board Education: What to Teach?
By Hildy Gottlieb

© ReSolve, Inc. 2009


The following question was posed at our site last month:

“Do you have an efficient and tactful way of evaluating the financial acumen of board members? I need to find out what they do or do not understand about our finances.”

We often chuckle when we see the perturbations boards and staff go through in developing board education programs. The most engaged organizations gather a committee, which then meets to review all the things they believe the board should know. They determine who will teach that information and how it will be taught. Then the board determines when that program will be held.

The more common practice is to skip the committee and just have the Executive Director design the program.

Putting aside for a moment the list of reasons an ED should not be deciding what her bosses need to know, the reality in both these cases is that board and staff alike continue to feel as if there is a ton of information board members simply do not know, regardless of the effort they put into their orientation program.

 Use It Today

There is a way to design a board education program that addresses precisely what board members need to know. It is not a canned approach, but highly personal to your board’s own knowledge level. It is not time consuming, and it is tactful and respectful. It helps determine what board members do and do not know about various topics (such as the finances, as asked above). Most of all, it is deeply engaging.

What is this powerful approach? Simply asking board members what they need to learn!

At your next board meeting, add a 15 minute item to your agenda, titled “Board Orientation and Education.” Use the following questions to facilitate discussion among your board members:

  • What do you wish you had known when you first joined the board, to help you make more informed decisions?
  • What knowledge do you feel you are lacking even now?

Ask the CEO this question:

  • What areas of the organization do you feel the board does not understand well enough to make informed decisions?

You can ask the same questions about a specific area, such as the finances.

  • Board in general: What areas of the financials do you wish you understood better, to help you make more informed decisions?
  • Finance Committee / Audit Committee / CEO or CFO: What areas of the finances do you feel the board does not understand well enough to make informed decisions?

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. By engaging board members in their own decisions about board education, you will be doing more than simply creating an effective education program. You will be engaging the board in creating its own future.

Building an Engaged and Energized Board has never been easierClick


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