By Regenia Bailey / Guest Editorial
The themes of planning and change are frequent topics at this time of year. Whether it’s the start of your organization’s fiscal year or not, these early days of January are a great time for reviewing the past year, developing plans and doing a little housekeeping to lay the groundwork for success in the calendar year ahead.
Planning is one of the functional responsibilities of a board, but many boards struggle to make this a priority. Fortunately, many organizations and individuals are setting their annual goals now. This may help board members be more willing to make planning a priority this month. If the organization has a current strategic plan, the board should assess the progress that it has made on the plan during the past year.
Next, it should review the organizational goals and objectives for the upcoming year and ensure that action plans, including timelines and assignment of responsibilities, are in place to achieve the annual objectives. Paying particular attention to fundraising and marketing plans will remind board members of the importance of these activities in the overall success of the organization. If the organization does not have a strategic plan, developing one should be a priority this year and this task should be included on the organization’s annual action plan.
Many boards schedule a separate board retreat to address goal-setting and planning. This can be a useful approach because it provides the time for board members to focus on planning in a setting outside of the usual board meeting. Other boards find it easier to incorporate a planning session into a regular board meeting. Regardless of how the organization approaches it, it is important for the board to ensure that the organization has an annual action plan and that the activities planned for the upcoming year align with the organization’s strategic goals.
To help with implementation of its plan, the board should include the plan’s action steps and deadlines on the board’s annual calendar. Mapping out the board’s activities month-by-month is a great way to keep committees and board members on track and break down larger projects into manageable tasks. Laying out the planning deadlines within the context of the board’s meeting schedule and other activities helps board members see the annual work flow and make sure that action plans and deadlines are realistic. It allows board members to plan ahead and may improve board member attendance and involvement.
The beginning of the year is also a great time for organizational housekeeping and attending to the systems and routines that allow things to run more smoothly.
To help new board members get up to speed, it’s important to provide board member training and orientation. Providing board orientation early in the year helps the organization take advantage of new board members’ talents and expertise early in their board terms. Board orientation does not need to be a large production. It can be as simple as taking some time at the first board meeting with new members to go through the basics of the organization and board responsibilities in a systematic and engaging way. The benefit of doing this at a board meeting with all board members present is that it gets new and continuing board members on the same page about the business of the organization and the routines and systems it uses to conduct its business.
As new members join, and past board members leave, it’s important that board and committee lists are updated so members can easily contact one another when necessary. With board changes, new board members should complete conflict of interest forms and continuing board members should review and update theirs as necessary. This is also a good time to confirm with staff that the web site and other publications have been updated with the current board list.
When the board elects new officers, the board treasurer should review the financial policies and signatories for the organization’s financial accounts. These should be changed as required by the board’s policies. In addition, the finance committee should schedule the annual financial review or audit, and confirm the organization’s deadline for filing its 990 and add this to the board’s calendar. If a review and update of board and organizational policies are not on the annual action plan, the executive committee may want to confirm that policies are up to date and schedule necessary reviews.
Lao Tzu said, “anticipate the difficult by managing the easy.” A little planning and organizational housekeeping will enable the board to avoid the stress of pulling things together at the last minute and will help the organization run more smoothly throughout the upcoming year.
Regenia Bailey is a consultant and coach to nonprofits and small businesses at her firm, the Bailey Leadership Initiative. She is a former mayor of Iowa City and teaches business courses at Kirkwood Community College. For more information, visit www.baileyleadershipinitiative.com.