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What goes in the board manual?
The Board Manual: An Orientation and Resource Tool

The foundation of a committed, knowledgeable, and effective board is orientation and education. As an essential companion to orientation and education, every organization should have a thorough, easy-to-use manual that board members can use throughout their terms. A board manual serves two functions. For the new board member, it is an orientation handbook that provides useful information about the organization, board structure and operations, and fellow board members and staff. For the balance of a member's board service, the manual then becomes an indispensable working tool and a central resource about the organization and the board. Materials can be added and removed to create an up-to-date reference. The board manual is developed by staff in consultation with the board chairperson and other officers. Present it to board members in a durable, attractive loose-leaf notebook with a table of contents and clearly divided and labeled sections. Date every item and replace material when necessary. Insert stationery, brochures, and similar items in pockets of the notebook.

To develop a working manual that board members use and rely on:

  • Don't overwhelm new board members with too much information. When several examples are available (e.g., current press clippings), include only one.
  • Keep each item brief. A two-paragraph biography of the executive director is preferable to a four-page resume, for example.
  • Use the handbook as a "textbook" during board orientation.
  • Encourage board members to read and ask questions about the material.
  • Ask board members to evaluate the usefulness of the manual each year.
  • Revise the contents or format based on their comments.

Board manual contents checklist

A thorough board manual can include the following materials. (Remember to keep each item as concise as possible.)

Governance Statement

Begin each new board member relationship with a governance statement discussion. What are the broad roles and responsibilities (and points of authority) of the board members, the staff, and the executive? How do they blend and intertwine? When are these roles based on mutual decisions and partnerships, and when are they separate? What elements of authority are reserved for the board members, the executive committee, and the executive director? Which ones are blended?

By clearly and concisely laying this out on the table, you will demonstrably reduce your risk of suffering long term "board responsibility creep"-where roles, responsibilities, and authority get clouded and become dysfunctional.

Our firm strongly suggests that you use the Carver Model of board governance, available in book form from any online book seller.

The board

  • Board members listing and bios
  • Board members terms
  • Board statement of responsibilities
  • Committee and task force job and descriptions

Historical references of the organization

  • Brief written history and/or fact sheet
  • Articles of Incorporation
  • Bylaws
  • IRS determination letter
  • Listing of past board members

Strategic framework

  • Mission and vision statement
  • Strategic framework or plan
  • Current annual operating plan

Minutes from some recent board meetings

Policies pertaining to the board

  • Policy on potential conflicts of interest
  • Insurance policy coverage
  • Travel/meeting expense reimbursements

Finance and fundraising

  • Prior-year annual report
  • Most recent audit report
  • Current annual budget
  • Form 990 Banking resolutions
  • Investment policy
  • Current funder list


  • Staff listing
  • Organization/team chart

Other information

  • Annual calendar
  • Web site information
  • Promotional material (membership brochure, information brochure, advertisements, etc.)


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About the author...
Author, thinker, and consultant Mario Capozzoli writes for a living. Over the years, his words have been "columnized" in op-ed pieces, ranging from his alma mater's student newspaper to the Glendale News Press, a 102 year old southern California daily with a readership of 72,000. Sister paper to the Burbank Leader and the Huntington Beach Independent, Mario's weekly column ran in the News Press for two years.

More recently, Mario's writings have revolved around professional monographs, knowledge management perspectives, and leadership pieces focusing on the not-for-profit world. His specialty is writing succinct, one-page documents that illustrate techniques, practices, and beneficial resources.

On a personal level, his narratives have been published in local and statewide journals. Mario's love of poetry shows his softer side of the written word.

You will find Mario in the middle of grammar, syntax, and word use arguments and debates. He prefers the Chicago Manual of Style as a usage guide! His mentor is Barbara Wallraff, of the Atlantic Monthly's backpage.