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By October 11, 2017No Comments

According to a new survey, nonprofits are not doing a very good job onboarding their board members. Nonprofit board members often times have set term limits, so the importance of constantly recruiting board members is heightened with the need to bring them up-to-speed quickly and effectively. Plus, the excitement of joining a new board can be hurt if an effective onboarding process is not conducted.

The survey, conducted by Heidrick & Struggles, of more than 500 nonprofit board members found that less than half of respondents (45%) said their organization’s onboarding experience properly prepared them to be an effective board member, while just over half (53%) had experienced a defined onboarding process when they first joined their board.

“Boards are under increasing demands to fully engrain themselves in the organizational vision, contribute to financial performance, and generate sustainable results, so it’s worrisome that most boards in the association and nonprofit space lack a formal board orientation that sets up board members for success,” said Bill Hudson, partner and member of the Education, Nonprofit & Social Enterprise Practice at Heidrick & Struggles.

More than half of respondents have been on their board for three years or less and two-thirds of association and nonprofit boards have term limits, further underscoring the need to formalize the process to help new directors serve more effectively as boards experience turnover.

Additional gaps in the onboarding process include: Just one-third of incoming board members received an explanation about the board’s evaluation of the CEO; 51% didn’t receive an explanation of its organizational culture; 40% didn’t receive an explanation of internal organization staffing; and 24% of survey respondents weren’t informed of board leadership hierarchy.

Other key findings of the study include:

  • The majority (91%) of association and nonprofit board members choose to serve because they believe in the mission. Other top motivators include one’s ability to make the organization more effective with their involvement (68%); serving out of obligation for the industry or sector (53%); and having a personal connection with the organization (43%). “In looking at the perspectives of association and nonprofit board members, we found that directors are laser-focused on how they can positively impact the vision and mission of the organization. In fact, they believe their main responsibility is to think big to help drive the organization forward,” said Julian Ha, partner and practice leader of the Government Affairs and Trade Association practices at Heidrick & Struggles.
  • Board service is more time-intensive and demanding than ever. Respondents reported spending on average 172 hours per year in service and 64% of respondents feel demands on boards have increased in the past five years. Yet 93% of association and nonprofit board directors feel that their board service is a good use of their professional time.
  • More progress needed in gender diversity on association and nonprofit boards. Just 30% of survey respondents are female, and about one-third of our respondents said they feel gender identification on their board is unbalanced.  

“Engaging board member involvement begins with setting the right expectations with onboarding best practices. This research provides a road map for success,” added Dr. David Rehr, Professor at Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University.

For the complete survey entitled, Association and Nonprofit Boards: Maximizing Effective Service report, visit

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