Have You: Created a Board Handbook?

A few weeks ago I wrote a riveting post (it was) on why organizations should have board handbooks. Now, here’s a few tips and resources to help make that reality a little easier. Even if you already have a handbook, it never hurts to fine-tune it from time to time…..

  • Your board is likely comprised of volunteers. Consequently, I don’t see too many of them “voluntarily” reading through 200 pages. Try to keep it as short and concise as possible. If it has to be longer (for bigger organizations) make sure to break it up into pieces for easier reference and digestion.
  • Make sure to have an organizational outline somewhere as well as necessary contact information.Vertex42.com has great free organizational templates available.
  • Wouldn’t hurt to include language detailing what the board members legal responsibilities are both in your state and federally. What are board members prohibited from doing? Doesn’t have to be long, but serves as a good reminder and impresses upon everyone what they’re taking on.  A list of non-profit laws for each state can be found here. Good place to start.
  • Along those same lines, you might make a quick list of industry specific laws applicable to your organization and a brief description. If you are health oriented, are there certain health regulations you must adhere to? If you cook food, are there local ordinances everyone should be aware of?
  • Include a copy of the organizations Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws in the very beginning. Just google either one and dozens of websites pop up. But take care to remember that some states require special language to be in them, so copy and paste just won’t do. The IRS also requires that there be a clause detailing how assets will be disseminated upon termination whenever applying for tax exemption.
  • I think its particularly important to remember where the nonprofit came from and where its headed. Include a brief page detailing the history of the organization and your mission statement.
  • Some organizations include a copy of the Directors and Officers liability policy. Couldn’t hurt.
  • Another good idea would be to include a calendar of all the board meetings for the upcoming year.
  • To comply with Sarbanes Oxely, include a Whistleblower Policy, Code of Ethics and a Conflicts of Interest Policy along with a disclosure form. The National Council on Nonprofits has a good resource page on developing codes here.
  • For each respective committee include a small committee description.  I would also include job descriptions for each relatively important position. Perhaps each Chair Person, Secretary, Treasurer, etc. Best practices to keep in mind when drafting descriptions, and examples, can be found here.
  • Include a Board Member Assessment that members can fill out detailing what committees they are interested in, and what skill-sets they bring to the table. This could also be included into the Board application form as an alternative.
  • This could go under job descriptions, but I would include a page detailing board expectations. How much are board members expected to fundraise/donate? How much time are they expected to expend? How many meetings are they expected to attend? I would even make this a sort of contract, having members sign that they acknowledge the terms.
  • Include any necessary protocols, such as how to be reimbursed for various expenses (as well as what expenses are reimbursable), determining executive compensation or an explanation of the planned giving policy. What donations are acceptable? What should board members shy away from? Make all of this very clear.
  • Naturally, include any other rules you may feel are applicable to your organization.
  • You might include templates for forms that are used often such as agendas, memos, board evaluations etc. Particularly forms that are used on an annual basis. You don’t want to get stuck depending on last years members to send you all the files.
  • I also tend to include a copy of the new 990 for reference purposes. I think its important board members understand what the government pays particular attention to. I have also included things such as a tax calendar I made, as well as copies of the forms. This may not be so important for bigger boards with finance and audit committees, but I’ve found it helpful for smaller boards.
  • Some organizations also include the minutes of their past meetings. I’m not a fan, just because this can lead to bulk, but definitely something to think about. Estela Kennan has listed tips on writing minutes here.

If there’s anything that your organization has in its handbook that I haven’t listed, feel free to leave it in a comment. I’ve felt to best way to fine tune many of the organizations I work with is to never be afraid of engaging in discourse, and not always trying to reinvent the wheel myself.