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8 Tips to Smooth the Way for Incoming Booster Leaders

Jenny Gipson ·

Oh the life of a booster club board member, there is nothing quite like it! You and your fellow board members are organizing, fundraising, managing finances, attire, volunteers, and more with full-time passion and unwavering commitment for your fine arts program. Before you know it, four years of faithful service have flown by and it's time for you to ‘retire’ and step down from the booster club board. You started strong, now finish strong. How? By setting your successor and the program up for continued success. Whether you played a central role in building the organization from the ground up, or helped to evolve and grow the club, make sure to preserve your legacy by intentionally passing the leadership baton.

In my previous years serving on numerous booster club organizations, I’ve experienced the administrative pain that comes from failing to fully vet candidates and execute a well formed succession plan with incoming leaders. But by far, the most painful mistake comes from rushing through the transition with little to practically no onboarding conversations! This informal transition approach often leads to significant financial and legal consequences that could take months or even years to recover, wasting a LOT of precious time for you and your program.

So, now that you’ve invested the time and energy to recruit the right people - let’s do this thing right! Here are eight tips to help you smooth the way and get your new leaders ready to roll.

1. Set Clear Expectations

Anyone assuming a leadership role in the club needs to understand their role and responsibilities. If you haven’t already, take time to document each booster board member role and make sure everyone on the board has a shared understanding of all roles. I also recommend creating an organizational chart so everyone can visually see how each role fits in the bigger picture. These two core documents should be among the very first items you review and discuss with your successor. And I do mean discuss! Otherwise, it can be tough to assess whether the incoming person truly grasps their commitment as well as what their ‘lane’ will ultimately be in the group. Trust me y’all, your fellow board members who are sticking around will LOVE you forever for taking the time for this important conversation!

2. Open the Knowledge Flow

Now that your successor has a clear understanding of what they are about to walk into, give them the information and tools they need to start ramping up quickly:

  • Ideally, you will hand them a physical summary along with access to a Dropbox or Google Drive of what is contained in your club’s ‘master file’ during your expectations meeting. The ‘master file’ is a collection of meeting notes, by-laws, state and federal registration forms, procedures, school district policies, financial obligations, and other operating information.
  • Along with the master file, have other key documents relating to their specific role and an ‘onboarding checklist’ ready to handover. The ‘onboarding checklist’ will help you lay out the information and training you will want to cover with your successor before your departure from the board.
  • Set up a series of ‘onboarding checkpoints’ with your successor. I generally recommend scheduling weekly sessions for 30-45 minutes for the first 2-3 weeks. After this time period, you may want to schedule 1-2 additional sessions for any follow up questions and knowledge transfer reinforcement.

3. Give a Warm Introduction

Joining a booster board can be an intimidating experience. Especially for people who have never served in a prior leadership role, much less haven’t yet volunteered with your club. A warm introduction does wonders. Be sure to plan time in your next board meeting agenda to personally introduce your successor to the group. Highlight their talents, interests, and qualities that led to their selection. Then have the successor talk about their experience, skills, and passion that led them to want to step up and take on a board role. After the formal board business concludes, encourage continued informal conversation and networking so both old and new booster board members can get to know each other.

Subsequently, carve out time on the agenda of your next booster all-hands meeting for introductions of incoming board members and allow each one to give a quick summary of their talents, interests, and qualities that led to their selection. Similarly, encourage each person to talk about their experience, skills, passion and what they hope to accomplish during their tenure. Lastly, have your communications volunteer either send a formal announcement and/or include new leader intros in your next newsletter. If you’re using a system like CutTime, you can easily do this using the Schedule Announcements feature. Whew, that’s one less thing you can quickly cross off your to-do list!

4. Show Them the Money

Finances are a tricky item when it comes to operating booster club organizations. First, each school system or community organization requires strict adherence to their particular rules and regulations. But they are not the only governing body you need to take into account. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sets strict regulations for how scholastic and independent groups handle fundraising, pledges/fees/costs, and reporting. On top of that, it’s also important for your successor to understand the guidelines around how to operate as a 501(c3) tax exempt non-profit organization.

Make sure to show your successor a current summary of the club’s financial standing. Go over the budget, and processes for handling expense line items, payments, and reporting. If you haven’t already, consider having a financial advisor come and present your financial health and do a review of the rules and regulations with the incoming leaders. In my perfect world, the old and new board members work together to complete an annual financial audit. No matter what you choose to do, make sure you do everything you can to keep the newbies from being blindsided to the financial side of your house.

5. Show Them the Program Assets (aka 'Crown Jewels')

Let’s face it - there is no program if the instruments, attire & uniforms, equipment, and library items are missing in action. Managing and protecting these precious assets are the core part of your booster club’s mission. That’s why in my humble opinion it's very important for each incoming board member to understand what the club and program have invested in to date. Your new CFO/Treasurer will obviously want to understand the current valuation and proposed budget for replacement and augmentation. The successor handling check in/check out, inspections, labels, and such needs to learn each of these workflows and its associated record keeping (CutTime does this amazingly well by the way!). Your incoming Fundraising and Communication Chairs should also get a crash course in what each item represents to the success of your fine arts program so they can advocate on behalf of your club’s students.

6. Give Warm Handoffs to Directors and Helpers

The goal of a booster club is to enhance the lives of your members and the stakeholders that serve and guide them throughout the year. This means setting up your successor to build positive relationships with the program directors, helpers, and school or community officials so that everyone gets connected and on the same page. Take time to send a quick email introduction to get the conversation started. If you’ve got a little more extra time on your hands, set up a virtual or in person meeting over coffee.

People are quirky. There, I said it. Do your successor a favor and share your objective views of what has worked over the years with each stakeholder. Flag potential areas of friction/conflict that could arise and provide a few concrete examples of how you were able to resolve them. Call out any special ‘go to’ people that the incoming leader should go out of their way to connect and nurture a relationship with as their term gets underway. This level of insight is pure gold.

7. Create Momentum with Members

Get your students, guardians and their families excited about the next generation leaders! No need to wait for the formal town hall session to spread the good word. Whenever you can, share your excitement about your successor to create buzz during carpools, volunteer shifts, performances, trips, etc. Your enthusiasm is contagious and a powerful tool in helping the new person gain confidence as they join your organization. Imagine how much more effective your successor will be by hearing from members, “Oh, we’ve heard so many great things about you!”

8. Don't Forget the Nitty Gritty Stuff

Relationships matter. But so do processes and tools if you expect anyone to get something done. Make sure you’ve either transferred or set up ‘credentials’ (aka username and password) for any software needed for your successor to do their job. How annoying it will be if say your Communication Chair can’t access the Events Calendar, your Uniform VP can’t get into the assignment list, or the Treasurer struggles to get into your bank account.

For best results, make a list of the software tools and jot down the credentials for each. If you don’t have the ability to demonstrate how each of them work in person - make a recording instead and post the files in a folder that can be easily referenced post your departure.

A well ordered booster club board member transition pays valuable dividends for your fine arts program. Structuring both the people and knowledge transfer, allows everyone to keep their focus on driving strategic growth projects. Imagine, being able to open up a new Spirit Wear Shop for new equipment and accessories and travel versus running around putting out unnecessary administrative fires due to poor leadership onboarding. So let’s keep everyone smiling. Start strong, now finish strong!

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