Our Guide to Planning Effective Nonprofit Board Training (+ Topics)


Your nonprofit’s board of directors should already have received some training on your organization and their role during the onboarding process. However, training should continue throughout their tenure to ensure that they remain up to date on happenings within your organization, the board itself, and your nonprofit sector. 

In this guide, we explain why board training is so essential to a healthy nonprofit as well as share some tips, resources, and strategies for effective board governance. You can navigate this information using the following headings:

Let’s go!

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Why Is Nonprofit Board Training Important?

Today’s world changes fast. Your nonprofit board is there to take the lead on large-scale planning and strategy, and they cannot do that without the proper expertise. 

The bottom line is that you have to take a group of varied personalities and backgrounds with a common passion for your mission and turn them into a team. No matter how much your board members know about their individual fields, they must know the best practices for nonprofit board governance

nonprofit-board-training-why-is-it-importantEllie is ready to take some notes on nonprofit board training!

Pro Tip: Keep in mind that even if a new board member has served on a nonprofit board before, they have not served for your nonprofit. Do not assume that they already know everything that they need to know. Be bold about sharing how governance works within your organization specifically so that they are set up for success. 


Board Orientation and Onboarding

Orientation is your first opportunity to train your new board members and, therefore, start their tenure with the inspiration, engagement, and knowledge they need to serve your mission. Here are some topics to cover during onboarding:

  • An outline of your mission, values, and history

  • A detailed job description with expectations and other nonprofit board responsibilities

  • A copy of your nonprofit’s board structure 

  • A who’s who of your founders, executives, and other key staff members

  • Financial statements from the past fiscal year

  • A list of the board committees and their members

  • A meeting calendar for the upcoming year

  • A summary of your nonprofit’s board of director salary guidelines

  • Minutes of the most recent board meeting

Pro Tip: Create an orientation binder containing hard copies of all of these documents. Send it to the new board member before their first day so that they can familiarize themself with the names, events, and policies. 


8 Board Training Topics

Onboarding is an important part of training, but it is by no means the only one. You should provide ongoing training for your board members so that they can continue to meet any changing requirements within the organization or the industry. 

Pro Tip: There are nonprofit board of directors workshop templates and other tools available online. They can help make the training process even simpler. 

Here are some training topics you may choose to cover. 

Topic #1: Board Dynamics

With a board dynamics training, you outline each board position, explore its responsibilities, and explain its relationship to other positions. The most common board roles include:

  • Chair: This is the leader of the board. They work with the nonprofit’s CEO, create committees, and act as the primary contact for the board. 

  • Vice chair: This person is the chair’s deputy. They act as the chair when needed and support the chair in day-to-day tasks.

  • Secretary: This person is in charge of all of the administrative tasks, such as scheduling board meetings and welcoming new board members. 

  • Treasurer: This individual is in charge of the money. They help plan your fundraising events, create your annual budget, and more. 

Topic #2: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) should be part of your core organizational values. The more varied perspectives your board has to draw from, the better equipped it is to find innovative solutions to problems. Additionally, a board should look like the community it serves so that it knows what the organization’s beneficiaries need. Any training on DEI should focus on being a more inclusive board — and organization as a whole. 

Topic #3: Networking

You may be lucky enough to have some lawyers, accountants, bankers, and other professionals on your board who can take on additional roles within your organization, but this is not always the norm. For certain projects, you may need a professional from that field. For example, if your nonprofit is growing fast and suddenly needs a new office space, you may want to hire a commercial real estate agent. This professional can help you find a new office. 

Train your board members to identify which tasks they can take on and which ones they need to find pro-bono or affordable consultants for. 

Topic #4: Meeting Planning

Your board meetings should be engaging. Learning to facilitate successful, sure meetings can ensure that your members’ attendance remains high and that they give their full attention to the matters at hand. 

Topic #5: Crisis Management

Working for a nonprofit can mean dealing with public scrutiny at any given time. No matter how stringent and fair your policies, how strong your financial accountability, and how honest your leadership team, your nonprofit could end up on the receiving end of a bad headline. Your team should know how to respond to a problem with a cohesive, structured plan

nonprofit-board-training-topicsEva definitely doesn't want her nonprofit board to look like this during crises!

Topic #6: Risk Management

While we are coming off of the topic of crisis management, now is a good time to mention that risk management training can help identify problems before they become crises. Ongoing training in this area can include any number of topics, such as:

  • Cybersecurity

  • Fundraising fraud

  • Regulatory compliance

Topic #7: Succession Planning 

Nothing stays the same forever, including nonprofit leadership. Should your chair or another high-level board member need to step down, there should be a plan in place to choose the successor. Nonprofit executives are not the only ones who might leave. It is also important to have a plan that incorporates new members of any level into your board seamlessly. 

Topic #8: Current Events

Are national or global events affecting aspects of your nonprofit mission? If so, it may be time to host a training session to address how you plan to work with, through, or around them. For example, many nonprofits suffered from supply-line shortages during the height of the pandemic. Those that fared the best were able to quickly adjust to this changing global scenario.

Pro Tip: An easy way to help a new board member adjust to their new role is to pair them with a veteran member. It does not have to be an involved mentorship process — it can be as simple as having someone willing to swap contact information to answer any questions they may have. 


In-House vs. Outsourced Training 

There are two ways you can approach training for your board members. You can use in-house experts to prepare presentations. Or, you can outsource the training to a firm that specializes in training on that particular topic or to nonprofits as a whole. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both. 

In-House Training

In-house training offers an experience that is tailored to your particular organization. Other pros of in-house training include the following:

  • Offers interactions with participants who will be working together in real-life situations

  • Blends easily into the skills that board members are already using as part of their roles

  • Keeps your information confidential, as you do not share the workings of the organization with an external company

In-house training is not without its cons, however. These include the following: 

  • Lacks networking opportunities

  • Adds more tasks to board members’ plates

Outsourced Training

Outsourcing is when you hire a third-party company to run your board member training. The company sends its own instructor and uses its own curriculum. This route also has its own set of advantages: 

  • Can use a video format to hold a training with any company you desire

  • Offers the fresh perspectives of professionals who are well-versed in the latest policies and guidelines

  • Takes the burden off of the board members who would otherwise run the trainings

Like in-house training, outsourced training has some disadvantages:

  • Can be costly if you use a reputable training company

  • Does not give the board control over the format or content

nonprofit-board-training-in-house-vs-outsourcingCorinne is thinking about all the pros and cons of outsourcing her nonprofit board training.

Pro Tip: Sometimes outsourced training may be called for, and sometimes in-house training is better. Your job is to identify the best training format for each scenario. You can ask similar nonprofits in your area what they do for specific types of workshops if you are stuck on how to make this decision. 


Final Thoughts 

How you train your board members can impact the entire direction of your organization. From the very first moment you recruit a member, outline the 501c3’s board of director rules and any other relevant policies for them. 

An educated board member is an effective one. Continued training ensures that your board is on the cutting edge of essential standards and practices within your organization’s sector.

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💡What is the importance of nonprofit board training?

Your board of directors is your organization’s governing body. Therefore, they need training to stay up to date on all of the standards, events, and practices that affect your organization. Find out more. 

🔑 Is nonprofit board training in-house or outsourced?

You can use either in-house or outsourced training for your nonprofit board of directors. There are benefits and drawbacks to both, so choose the one that works best for your organization and the specific topic. Find out more. 

📝 What topics should nonprofit board training cover?

There are any number of topics that nonprofit board training can cover, including meeting planning, diversity and inclusion, networking, and crisis management. Find out more.


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