A board manual is not only a useful tool for the board's induction process but can also serve as a reference point for all board members throughout their terms.
While putting a manual together from scratch may seem like a time-consuming chore, once the foundations are laid, it will pay enormous dividends in ensuring board members have relevant information on hand at all times.
How you prepare and present your manual is a matter of individual style or need, but as a minimum you should ensure that it includes the following features:
The board manual should be a living document, updated as need be (when policies change, for example). For this reason it is best to present the manual in a "loose leaf" format, which will allow pages to be pulled out or added as required. If your board members are technologically competent, you could consider making an electronic manual. This way, you can easily make adjustments and email the new version (ensuring that board members overwrite the old document).
You do not want to weigh down your board members with useless information. Keep the manual as simple and brief as possible.
Similarly, ensure your manual is easy to read. Don't fill it with long-winded sentences or purple prose. Avoid jargon, or if you have to use difficult words, explain what they mean. The purpose is to convey information, not to impress with the author's literary skills.
At the very minimum, make sure your manual contains a contents page. Ideally, it should also have an index. Divide the manual into sections to ensure board members can flick to the area they want without having to search the entire document. Make sure information is dated to ensure that board members can trace which version they are using. Ask board members what they think of the manual and what they would like to change.
Your manual should contain information about the background and current context of your community group and the board. This could include:
- What the group is ("Good Works Community Group is a not-for-profit organisation operating in Melbourne's northern suburbs...")
- What the group does ("We work to improve the lives of people living in Melbourne's northern suburbs…")
- How it does what it does ("…by providing food and shelter to those in need.")
- A brief, point form summary of programs
- A brief, point form summary of sources of donations and grants
- A brief, point form history of the group – when it was set up, milestones, etc.
- Current year's newsletters and any recent relevant media clippings
- Brochures, flyers and other promotional material
- Relevant contact information for the group – its address, telephone and fax numbers, email and website address
- Group statistics, such as number of members, number of programs, number of people served by the group, etc.
- Constitution / articles of association / rules
- Mission and vision statements
- Strategic plan
- Relevant policies (conflict of interest, email, etc.)
- Copy of policies of any insurance held by the group (for board members or for the group)
- Current year's budget
- Minutes of recent board meetings (updated once a year)
- Most recent annual report and auditor's report.
- Brief information about current board members (names, contact details and a short biography)
- A meeting schedule and a calendar of upcoming events
- Any board reviews, reports or evaluations that have been undertaken
- A list of the board's current sub-committees, including terms of reference and details of chairs and members
- If there are several sub-committees, include a chart showing how they fit together.
- Staff names, titles and areas of responsibilities (including volunteers, if relevant)
- Specific information about the CEO or head person, including biographical information
- Organisational chart.
- Board members have a range of legal and ethic responsibilities and it can be very useful to include some information about these in your board manual.