Board Development & Succession Planning

Below listed are several of the areas to be taken into consideration when looking at development the board and possibly changing the structure or manner in which the Board of Directors operates and functions. Below is an overview of some of the things to be taken into consideration when one looks at Board Development and or Change Management.

A board that has been properly developed and provided with the right tools will be more effective in the contribution they can make to the company or organization they are serving.

To do this requires a time commitment to ensure there is an overall understanding of the company/organization and its goals and objectives.

We at Heather Ostertag and Associates are able to provide support to assist in this type of developmental work for both private and not for profit organizations.

Develop a board profile

Develop a profile of the skills, qualities and knowledge that the board will need in order to address the challenges facing the organization in the next few years. The board profile is a way of translating the organization’s strategic goals and priorities into a description of the kinds of people who are needed for the board. Please note that a board profile is much easier to create if the organization has a vision and a strategic plan. It is recommended that a board profile be reviewed annually.

In order to develop a board profile, it is useful to prepare an assessment of current board members. To do this, a committee may want to:

  • Send a brief questionnaire to each board member to identify their skills and strengths
  • Refer to previous board evaluations (if available)
  • Recruit and Select New Board Members

And important part of Board development includes doing an assessment of the skill set currently on the Board of Directors as well as a needs assessment of what additional skills if provided at the Board level could benefit the goals and objectives of the organization.

A great deal of this work can be done through the development of a strong nominating committee charged with the responsibility to find candidates who possess the skills, qualities and knowledge that fit the board’s needs. The nominating committee will then screen and select the members. Succession planning is an important aspect of the recruitment process. Through succession planning, members should be provided with opportunities to learn and demonstrate leadership skills through chairing a committee, participating in short-term task groups, taking on a specific task, or representing the organization at community events.

Electing Board Members

In many organizations, the nominating committee prepares a slate of candidates which is voted on at the Annual General Meeting. In other organizations, the nominating process is open-ended: any member can nominate a candidate for the board. Be clear as to your process for election; refer to your By-laws for a full description of election protocol.

It is also beneficial to examine the current election process and explore other possible processes all to ensure that the process used best serves the goals and objectives of the organization.


Orientation of the entire board shortly after the election is essential. To develop and have prepared Board orientation packages that can be provided at the time of election to the Board is the most effective way to utilize and allow for new directors to fully participate at the earliest possible time.

Many new directors have the attitude that they should sit back for a year and see what the lay of the land is. This approach does not allow them to make full contributions to the organization and can result in them not making the levels of contributions they are capable of making. It is important to encourage new Board Members to be fully engaged from the outset.

Board orientation should involve all Directors and is best if done as soon as possible following the Annual General Meeting.

The purpose of the orientation is:

  • To familiarize new members with the organization and with the board’s responsibilities;
  • To ensure that new members understand their legal duties as individual board members; o build a working relationship among board members that promotes ongoing support and enables them to come to an agreement on how they will carry out their work.
  • It is important that new board members receive regular feedback on their performance, especially if it is their first time serving on a Board of Directors. Board members responsible for the orientation of new members should be aware of the performance expectations that are most important to convey to new members. Though all aspects of orientation are important and need to be worked on by new members, directors should clearly communicate to new members the expectations that must be understood and complied with immediately. There may be specific conventions for each Board, such as those related to charitable giving to the organization, that also need to be made clear from the onset (Gill 2005).

Here are items to consider in developing an orientation session/ manual for new Board members:

  • History of the organization
  • Copy of by-laws
  • Mission of the organization
  • Strategic priorities, goals and objectives
  • Summary of the organization’s programs and services
  • Membership base (if any)
  • Organizational structure
  • Board structure, executive members, committees, staff structure
  • Board member’s role
  • Job descriptions, expectations, and legal liabilities
  • Board / staff roles
  • Committees
  • Board recruitment, development and evaluation process
  • Budget process
  • Current year’s budget
  • Ongoing Support and Recognition

Board members need continuous support during their term to help them do their work effectively.

This may include:

  • A “buddy system” for new board members, in which they are paired with a member who has been on the board for long time;
  • Regular feedback about their work;
  • Occasional reminders about roles and responsibilities;
  • A clear indication about who board members should approach for information when they have questions.
  • Training and development
  • Training and development opportunities are important to the success of a board.
  • A development session can happen in a number of ways:
  • A planned workshop for the board to attend
  • A guest speaker or presentation by one of the board members
  • Participation (by individual board members) in seminars and conferences held by other organizations
  • The checklist below contains tools that should be used in the Board Development Cycle.
  • Does your organization have the following?
  • Updated by-laws
  • Board Orientation manual
  • Role descriptions for each board position
  • List of elements of an effective meeting
  • Board Evaluation forms/ procedures
  • Nomination and Recruitment procedures

Succession Planning

Succession Planning is an important part of the overall healthy state of an organization, whether it be at the Board of senior staff level, it is a good business practice to ensure that succession planning is in place so that regardless of any situation that may arise, the organization can continue to operate in a smooth and efficient manner. To ensure this everything from the selection of Board Members, to whom serves on the Executive to the senior staffing positions needs to be considered.

We at Heather Ostertag and Associates are able to provide support to assist in this type of work for both private and not for profit organizations.