The strength and longevity of an organization hinges in large part on the volunteers who provide its support and leadership. To lead today's membership association, volunteers need initial and ongoing development and training. They need to begin their term of service with adequate knowledge about the association and an understanding of their various responsibilities and roles, fiduciaries and otherwise.
The association will also benefit from volunteers proficient in higher-level leadership skills. While some individuals arrive armed with these skills, others can be nurtured through on-the-job training, coaching and mentoring. Effective professional development requires a team effort by board and staff.


  1. Orientation
  2. Orientation documents
  3. CEO as mentor
  4. Leadership skills and professional development
  5. Assessment
  6. Summary
  7. Sources and further reading



Board leadership training begins with orientation. Incoming board members should be familiar with the association they are about to serve and briefed about the fundamentals of their fiduciary duties as board members, preferably before the beginning of their terms.
Orientation can occur singly or in groups, with the assistance of an outside facilitators and consultants, or through mentoring by veteran board members and staff. The orientation program should encompass subjects and issues that pertain to the association's history, governance, and operations. The chapter on association governance and structure in ASAE's publication, Professional Practices in Association Management (ASAE), discusses the importance of orientation of new and potential leaders.
Orientation usually includes both an overview of the organization, its background and corporate profile, membership information, challenges and accomplishments over the years, as well as projects in the works. Orientation should also include a review of the organization's documents dealing with governance, legal, and fiscal matters.

Orientation documents

The following is a list of documents typically included in a new board member's orientation kit or manual:
1) Historical overview (origin, milestones, challenges and achievements through the years), association profile, sample publications from previous year(s), previous 1-3 years of board minutes, previous 1-3 years of financial reports;
2) Legal, such as articles of incorporation, bylaws, contracts, codes of conduct or ethics, an opinion prepared by the association's legal counsel on the board's fiduciary duties, certificates of insurance; and
3) Management and operations, such as policies and procedures, job descriptions for volunteers and chief staff executive, vision and mission statements, strategic plans, membership reports and surveys, current budgets and financial reports, recent (within past 12 months) board minutes and committee reports, the current program of work for board and staff, and calendar.
The Sample Board Governance Policies, published by ASAE, offers several representative lists of the documents typically provided by associations as part of the orientation toolkit.

CEO as mentor

Establishing and maintaining appropriate recruitment and training is included among competencies studied in preparation for the certified association executive (CAE) examination, according to the book, Professional Practices in Association Management.
Mentoring and coaching, suggest some organizational consultants, should be regarded as an investment, essential to the overall health of the association. The employed CEO may at times find her or himself in the position of "teaching the boss," a job responsibility that comes with its own demanding skill set of communication and diplomacy.

Leadership skills and professional development

Doug Eadie in his book, Boards that Work, observes that developing a board as a human resource is a never-ending process but one well-worth the investment. An association's success -- its ability to remain relevant to members, to adapt to changing environmental conditions and to build upon a foundation of steady progress -- relates closely to the capabilities and competencies of its leadership.
Board members should be able to think strategically and to problem solve. They should be competent communicators, able to listen, articulate, negotiate, weigh diverse and differing points of view in a balanced discussion, and resolve conflicts with patience and professionalism. According to Emily Morrison, in her book, Leadership Skills, volunteers should also be able to function as a goal- and results-oriented team.
The key to assembling this high level of professionalism in the boardroom is development, assessment and continuing education. Donal O'Hare, in an article published by ASAE ("Elements of a Leadership Development Strategy 2007, ASAE web site), recommends putting together a formal process for leadership development that incorporates mentoring as a strategic training tool and regarding long-term leadership development as an association "insurance policy." Eadie (Boards that Work) recommends a formal orientation program that includes board performance standards.


Assessment, also known as board self-evaluation, is a board tool to review, monitor and critique board performance and is fundamental to developing and maintaining a productive board, according to John Carver in his book, Reinventing Your Board.
The board appraisal typically focuses on board function, effectiveness and development. Meeting productivity, ability to fulfill measurable goals and objectives, including those articulated in the strategic plan, and membership satisfaction are other ways in which a board may, from time to time, compare board performance to outcomes.


Board leadership training is an important preliminary and ongoing program for both new and seasoned volunteer leaders and is a key to a membership organization's continuing success. Board members who are both committed and knowledgeable when they begin their term of service make better and more informed decisions regarding an organization's current and future concerns.

Sources and further reading

Carver, John; Boards That Make a Difference (Jossey-Bass Inc., 1997), pp 205-206
Carver, John and Miriam Mayhew; Reinventing Your Board (Jossey-Bass Inc., 1997), pp. 50, 181-182
DeCicco, Anne L.; Achieving Excellence in Association Governance (ASAE 1996)
Eadie, Doug C.; Boards That Work (ASAE, 1994), pp. 59-61
Ellis, Susan J; The Volunteer Recruitment Book (ENERGIZE Inc., 1996), p. 55
Ingram, Richard T.; Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards (BoardSource 1996)
Lakey, Berit M.; Nonprofit Governance (BoardSource 2002)
Morrison, Emily Kittle; Leadership Skills(Fisher Books, 1994)
Szanton, Peter; Board Assessment of the Organization: How Are We Doing?
(BoardSource, 1995)
Professional Practices in Association Management (ASAE) pp. 5, 357
Sample Board Governance Policies (ASAE information background kit), 89-105
"Developing Leadership Skills: Invest Now (or Pay Later)," by Kristin Merriman-Clarke, CAE; Executive Update, April 2003.


The core of this entry was written by:
Sammi Soutar
Able Management Solutions Inc
5310 East Main St #104
Columbus, OH
t: (614)868-1144