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Board Manual Basics

By Teri Saylor, CAE

Having been deeply active in your association, you no doubt know a great deal about its operations, its history, its politics, its policies, and its programs. But your new board members generally are not like you. They probably haven’t been involved as long and don’t know as much about the association. That’s why they look to you for education and leadership. One of your first major tasks as a chief elected officer will be to give them an in-depth orientation, complete with a manual of information.

"Why," you might ask, "should I go to the trouble to build a board manual?" Here are three good reasons:

  1. Your board members will have common information. Clichéd though the phrase may be, getting everyone to sing out of the same hymnbook is important. Having the same materials in the same format will make each director better informed and effective.
  2. They’ll have a security blanket. When a member of your association calls with questions, having helpful information at hand will make your directors look like experts-something they’ll find comforting and the member will appreciate.
  3. They’ll be well organized. Directors’ jobs are part time, temporary, and voluntary. A manual with all of their association information in one place will facilitate their performance of association duties.

Once you agree with the rationale behind a board manual, it’s time to come up with the contents. Here are the items, from basic to fancy, that are helpful to include.

The bare-bones manual

It’s easiest to start small – and a simple manual is better than none. (Besides, being too ambitious could make creating one so daunting that you’ll procrastinate.) These basics will serve your board well.

  • Mission statement. This is useful for steering your directors through the murky waters during their early months in office.
  • Bylaws. In times of confusion about handling a particular issue, often the answer is in the bylaws.
  • Board politics. These will help directors operate smoothly without relying on oral history or association folklore.
  • Annual budget and most recent audit. When a member demands, "show me the money," with these items, directors can.
  • Board members’ names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
  • Staff names and titles. Also list contract professionals, such as lobbyists, lawyers, and accountants.
  • Calendar of events.
  • Committee structure.

The fleshed-out manual

If you’ve already developed a skeletal board manual, create a meatier incarnation that includes the following.

  • Strategic plan. Also include any periodic updates.
  • List of member services. Having a sketch of just how much your organization does for its members help directors justify dues.
  • Staff job descriptions and office policies.
  • Roster of committee members.
  • Short description of board actions over the past 15 or 20 years. In addition to eliminating questions about how programs got started, this list will keep directors from reinventing services already in place.

The fat and happy manual

This information isn’t necessarily essential, but it can be helpful and even fun.

  • Timeline of the growth, development, and changes in your association’s structure and programming.
  • Generic job descriptions for your officers, directors, and committee chairs. Outline their responsibilities and include tips for running meetings, recruiting volunteers and so forth.
  • Facts about liability insurance. Go on the offense and explain that the board is protected against liability.
  • In-depth financials. Dissect your financial statement and provide detailed explanations about those numbers and columns.
  • Laws affecting your association’s industry.
  • Frequently asked questions (FAQs). All new board members have basic questions they secretly fear would make them appear dumb.
  • Answers to "What is a 501(c)(6) organization?" or "Why do we need an audit?" will increase their comfort level.
  • Narratives describing what minutes are and why you need bylaws.
  • Personal information about your fellow board members.

A final note about computerizing

If you’re looking for ways to go high tech during your year as president, putting your board manual on a Web site, CD-ROM, or diskette is an option your directors are likely to enjoy. Just remember two things: To be useful, an electronic manual needs to be searchable, which requires programming expertise. And even if you do go high tech, a hard copy in a three-ring binder will continue to be an invaluable resource. Not only is it a central place to store board and other association materials, it’s also a notebook your directors can take to meetings, their homes, and their offices as a badge of honor and symbol of service to their association.

Teri Saylor, CAE, is executive director of the North Carolina Press Association, Raleigh. This article is intended for the private use of Members and is reprinted with the permission of Teri Saylor.

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