Board Succession: Preparing New Trustees for Success

By Natalie Briscoe

The majority of congregational boards turn over in the late spring/early summer months. In general, you would be planning your board retreats at this time, but these uncertain times call us into a different way of being together and working together.

One of the most important responsibilities of a Board Member - and especially a Board President - is succession planning. How can we lovingly and freely give the lessons we learned, the knowledge we gained, and the relationships we built to new board members to ensure their success? How can we make board succession a part of leadership development, so that all new leaders feel supported and prepared?

There are three areas that deserve attention when thinking about board succession: Relationships, Governance, and Administration.

Relationships are an important part of Board Work. Board members are ENTRUSTED to make decisions on behalf of the congregation through the democratic process, which is why they are called Trustees. Board members, in this sense, are servant leaders. They are called to listen and observe the needs and priorities of the congregation and to allocate resources accordingly. They serve the organization through trust; they do not direct or overrun it.

With regard to relationships, a frank conversation between outgoing members and incoming board members of the following topics (over zoom for this year) can help new board members feel up to speed on the relational aspects of stepping into a board role:

  1. What is the role of the board in relationships to the congregation, the mission, the staff, and the committee on ministry? What work is uniquely ours?
  2. What are the main sources of conflict currently brewing in the congregation?
  3. Is there any relationship history with any member or members that the board should be aware of?
  4. Are there any relationship liability risks, such as Limited Access Agreements, members on probation, or members who have been excused, that we should be aware of?
  5. What was the covenant of the last Board? How did it work? How did the previous Board work the covenant? What might need to change?
  6. Are there any staff issues to be aware of?
  7. What is our Associational Culture? How do we participate in our covenant with other congregations?

Governance is the establishment and continuous monitoring of policies by the Board of Trustees which, when properly implemented, move the congregation toward fulfilling its mission. The exact mechanism of your governance will look different depending on the type of board you are (operational, management, portfolio, liaison, strategic, or policy), but whatever your style, it is imperative that your governance matches your needs. Talking to incoming board members about your governance style, the three kinds of board work (fiduciary, strategic, and generative), and the issues that the board has wrestled with in the recent past can help new board members feel like they can participate more fully in the governance process.

With regard to governance, incoming board members should be given a binder (or folder with electronic copies) of the following:

  1. The By-Laws of your congregation. If you want to be really generous, highlight areas of critical information or note where issues have arisen recently.
  2. The Policies and Procedures Manual. This document details how the work of the congregation actually gets done in process.
  3. The Organizational Chart, this document details who does what work and how we are accountable to each other.
  4. The Budget. Again, for added generosity, add an explanation of how the values are represented therein and how difficult decisions were made last year.
  5. Any contracts that the congregation is currently involved in, including staff contracts and rental contracts.
  6. The congregation’s current insurance policy.
  7. Enrollment and Membership Data.

Finally, there are general administration issues that the incoming board will need to learn about before they are able to fulfill their role as a board member. As part of their orientation, new board members will need:

  1. The Board’s Covenant
  2. A calendar of when things happen throughout the year, including the stewardship and budget cycle, the cycle of annual meetings, and the program year and its themes
  3. Certification Information: When and how to certify your congregation, the Congregational ID number, and the passwords to MYUUA.ORG to update the information.
  4. The Board’s Goals from last year, the process for yearly goal-setting and a description of the method by which the board decides its priorities
  5. An understanding of how meeting agendas are set, how to get an item on the agenda, and the structure of meetings
  6. An understanding of when and how to use Executive Session
  7. Coaching around making a motion and voting responsibilities
  8. An explanation of the culture around Linkage, or how the Board communicates with the congregation
  9. Information about connecting to the Region: Southern Region Staff information, finding the SR website, joining the SR Facebook page and group, and subscribing to the SR e-news
  10. Ongoing Board Development and Leadership Development Opportunities
  11. Evaluation procedures for personnel, ministries, and volunteers.

This list may not be exhaustive. There may be other items that you include in your board orientation that we’ve forgotten or that are very specific to your congregation. Combined with this list of necessities, your new board members are sure to feel prepared and ready to serve your congregation in this very important way.

P.S. Is the data for your congregation up-to-date and accurate? Please help your UUA and your Southern Region staff team stay in touch with you by keeping this information up-to-date and by reporting complete and accurate contact information for your lay leaders and staff (including current email addresses, please!). Your congregation's lay leaders and staff are missing important communications if this congregationally reported data is not current and accurate!