Principle 15: “Ethical Emani” and Board Education

Keeping It Ethical is our weekly blog series highlighting the 33 Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice. Throughout the series, we hope to highlight the importance of each Principle and the helpful resources associated with it and learn more from you about how you’ve incorporated these Principles into your charitable organization. 

Ethical Emani, our in-house expert on all things Principles and #npethics, has been waiting in the wings ready to pounce on moral dilemmas faced by nonprofit professionals. This week, Emani returns ready to run down board education and communication.


Dear Ethical Emani,

Help! We recently had three board members resign and we quickly realized the need to fill these positions ASAP. Our governance committee has worked furiously over the past few weeks to procure new members. Now that part is figured out, but we’re drowning in the realization that we don’t have a great process set up to bring them into the fold. Where do I start with prioritizing this chaos?

Yours truly,

Overwhelmed Owen


Dear Overwhelmed Owen,

Whoa, it sounds like your organization is going through major changes, but it seems like you’re doing your best to take it in stride.

Fear not, you’re not as behind as you might feel. The fact that you have a functioning governance committee and charter in place is fabulous. Don’t forget to high five your colleagues! This is the type of situation where a governance committee is able to move swiftly to safeguard the organization. See, a little bit of proactive planning does go a long way.

If you’ve got your nominating and governance operations in place, that means you likely have some board orientation, education, and communication processes – they may just not be formally nailed down yet.

It’s time to welcome the newcomers!

No worries, I’m here to help with a list and what’s better than a listicle? Nothing, ask Buzzfeed.

Here are the TOP FIVE points to highlight as you welcome your new board members:

  1. Board orientation – Order a fun lunch and cozy up with LOTS of coffee for this event.

    Kick off a proper welcome for new directors with a formal board orientation. Trust us, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for this. Our partners at BoardSource offer a great orientation checklist, just be sure to customize it to suit your organizational needs.

    This is the best space to get the basics in place and outline expectations. For example, do you follow Robert’s Rules of Order? Well, that would be a really important point to stress during the orientation process. You should be sure to address items like meeting attendance policies, expectations regarding participation, and meeting preparation. Of course, don’t forget to provide new board members with their committee assignments and corresponding charters.

  2. Director onboarding – While board orientation is more of an event, think about board onboarding as a process.

    The director onboarding process is that special phase when the hopeful glimmer in your new director’s eyes dulls just a tiny bit, as their eyes glaze over the pages and pages of reading you’ve gifted them.

    Our partners at BoardEffect explain well that each director comes into a board at a different juncture of experience. The best part of an onboarding process? It allows you to implement time-bound benchmarks while giving you the flexibility to ensure each director follows along at their own pace.

  3. Legal and financial obligations – We’ve stressed the importance of independent decisions and a director’s duty of loyalty before.

    Principle 12 reminds us that board members should be aware of the legal and financial implications their role and decisions have. This area for education is the best fit to bring in a legal professional to explain the details and even help your board consider options for insurance. You should seek legal consultation, and if funds don’t allow for it, look to your state bar associations, law school clinics, and law firms. These networks frequently have pro-bono service programs for qualifying nonprofits.

  4. Board responsibilities & oversight – Board members are responsible for having a routine process in place to assess, implement, and update committee charters.

    We mentioned board appointments, but it’s equally important that these committees and charters are updated regularly with the right members consulted — at times it means the entire board weighs in.

  5. Board education is ongoing – Wouldn’t it be cool if we could press a button and all the knowledge and skills you needed would be downloaded into your brain?

    Well, we’re not in the Matrix so unfortunately (or fortunately) we must treat board education and communication as a living and ever-evolving process.

    At the minimum, this means board members should receive agendas and materials well in advance of meetings to come in prepared. Of course, you should strive for more than the basics and implement a system or a communication portal for regular updates on program activities and progress during the intervening periods.

This list says it all my friend, or most of it. These points should serve as a launchpad and a little structure as you wade through the resources and documents necessary to get this process codified.

Rest assured Owen, that pain is worst during the initial build out. I promise it gets much easier the next year. When in doubt, call on your network of peers like me, Ethical Emani!

Learn more about Principle 15 and the associated resources.

And if you know about other great resources that support this Principle 15, we’d love to hear from you. Leave your thoughts in the comments section and let us know what you think. You can also use #npethics on social media.

Types: Blog
Global Topics: Ethics and Accountability
Focus Areas: Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice