11 Resources for Your New Board

July 10, 2023Gila Hadani and Amy Asin

This is the time of year that many congregations form new boards. Here are a few ways your board can strengthen your leadership using resources from the URJ.

  1. Get to know each other – whether you are meeting in person or on Zoom, it’s critical that board members build relationships with each other. When your board needs to make tough decisions, it will be easier to have those conversations with people who have established working relationships. You can:
    • Start or end the meeting with small group discussions related to an upcoming holiday, the Torah portion, or the sharing of “oys and joys.”
    • Start the meeting with social time or have a break in the middle for a light snack and conversation.
    • Publish a list of members' birthdays (bonus points if you acknowledge them!)
    • Shake up the seating – Assign seating at some meetings to encourage people to get to know each other. 
    • Spend some time reviewing resources on our Audacious Hospitality page. It's important to acknowledge that not everyone shows up to boards the same way. Being aware of how your identity and the identity of others (particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds) may inform one's board experience can be critical to creating meaningful relationships and making your board work effectively.
    • Have one person start off the meeting with a question related to the Torah portion, a short statement about their Jewish journey, or what the congregation means to them. This may help members understand each other better.
  2. Onboard new members. Don’t assume that new board members have an understanding of the congregational culture or the way your board usually does things. You can also assign new members a mentor from among the returning members. For more ideas about onboarding, take a look at this document, which will help you build an orientation for your board.
  3. Assess your board’s culture. Every board has a culture that has evolved and most members don’t realize that there are many ways to do things. Use this assessment tool from the URJ to set priorities. Additionally, the URJ can assign a mentor to help you use results of your assessment as you create a custom roadmap for change.
  4. Develop your partnerships with clergy and staff. For congregations that have clergy and/or staff, it is critical to work with them to lead the congregation. This means that there is an explicit understanding about roles and mutual trust. Use this guide from the URJ to learn about and develop your sacred partnership.
  5. Separate management, governance, and strategic leadership. Many boards get too involved in the everyday operations of the congregation, impairing their ability to govern and lead. Take all discussions of everyday management out of board meetings. If your lay leaders and volunteers are also responsible for general operations, try to limit these discussions or move them to a separate meeting so that you have time for governance and leadership discussions. If you need more help reshaping these discussions, consider organizing a board retreat.
  6. Set priorities. Your board is a collection of individuals whose time is limited. Get clear on your top three priorities for the year. Assign someone to lead the planning and implementation for each priority. Spend at least some time at each board meeting discussing progress on each priority. If you need help setting priorities, the URJ can facilitate a board discussion or retreat on this topic. We can also run a retreat focusing on a single priority.
  7. Make sure your executive committee understands its purpose. If your executive committee preprocesses board discussions and decisions, leaving the board to rubber stamp their recommendation, then redirection is necessary. If you need to sharpen your executive committee’s role, take a look at this blog post for guidance.
  8. Start planning for next year’s board. Regardless of whether you had trouble filling board seats this year, start thinking about developing leaders for next year’s board. This guide about nominating committees may be a good starting place. In addition, consider whose perspectives and lived experiences are missing from your board. Is the diversity of the Jewish people reflected in your board (Jews of Color, LGBTQ+ identifying people, single people, people with disabilities, etc.)? If not, take steps to recruit board members from a wide range of backgrounds.  You can also consider a URJ leadership development program for your congregation.
  9. Create an ethics policy. The URJ’s goal is for all congregations to create an ethics code to govern the behavior of their congregants and lay leaders. Many congregations have already created codes and the URJ has a free template and coaching resources that we are happy to share.
  10. Send your clergy, staff, and lay leaders to the URJ’s 150th anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C. on December 15-17. This conference will celebrate the URJ’s first 150 years and facilitate discussions about our path over the next 50 years. It’s a great way to give your board and future leaders a crash course in leadership and the Reform Movement. This year, a tiered pricing schedule and scholarships are available.
  11. Get involved in the Leadership and Governance Group in the URJ Tent. Many of the above resources are available there. It's also a fantastic place to learn from other congregational leaders and ask questions. 

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