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  • Writer's pictureJim Pugh

Business Office Basics: New Board Member orientation by the CFO

Former long-time business officer, recent interim CFO, and founding member of NBOA Jim Pugh shares wisdom he has collected in his decades of service to independent schools.

New School Board Members are often invited to spend a few hours at the school in advance of their first board meeting. The purpose is to meet with the head of school and the Board Chair to discuss the board’s current business and how the board functions. In many cases, this time includes meetings with senior members of the administration, such as the director of advancement and the CFO. Each of these meetings is typically a half hour in length.

The meetings serve several purposes. They help to bring new board members up to speed for their first board meeting. Board members begin to learn the issues, school jargon, important numbers and the typical format of reports. They get to meet the administrators who serve as liaisons with board committees. They get a feel for how the administrative team works. The meetings are a low-key setting where the board members can ask any question, free of judgment.

This Excel file is a sample of the type of information the CFO can present to new board members. It starts with a 30,000-foot view of the school’s assets. Next, it presents the key concepts which guide the school’s financial management (more detail on these key concepts will follow in a forthcoming Business Office Basics article).

What you should present first and at later occasions should be tailored to your school’s programs and needs. If your school does not report comparison data from other schools, that section can be scrubbed. If no construction project or capital campaign is underway, you do not need to spend time on those areas. I prefer to hand out this summary on paper. The board member may take notes and can take it home for later review.

Be sure to leave time for questions. You will learn something about the financial depth of each board member.

Be sure to leave time for questions. You will learn something about the financial depth of each board member. Answers to their answers will show your command of the school’s finances. If you do not know the answer to a question, simply reply: “That’s a good question. I will send you the answer tomorrow.” Column K in the spreadsheet provides space for “Notes to self.” These comments are to prepare your explanations.

Encourage the board members to contact you if they have questions after they leave the meeting. Their heads will be spinning from all the information they receive during orientation. They may have thoughtful questions for you after 24 or 48 hours.

The orientation meeting is an opportunity to establish a positive working relationship with the new board members. Prepare for it well. The information sheet can be a good place to start. Feel free to adapt and revise the Excel file to best fit your school.

This article originally appeared in NBOA's Net Assets magazine as part of Jim Pugh's Business Office Basics series, we have made minor alterations for an international school context. Sage Consultancy strongly recommends membership of NBOA for international schools as a great resource for school leadership.

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