November 18, 2017
 
Board Orientation Yields High Interest, Strong Governance

By Kevin Monroe

Kevin Monroe
Once new members have joined a nonprofit board, it's important to provide an effective orientation process that quickly gets them up to speed, connects them to the mission and their colleagues, and helps ensure strong governance.

Without effective orientation, new board members often sit in the shadows for several meetings as they try to determine how things are done in your organization. Failing to equip new board members for their service actually does a disservice to both new and existing board members. New members are not sure how to properly engage or contribute to the discussions, while some existing board members may feel frustration over what they consider “na´ve,” time-consuming questions or ignorance about board processes. These situations can be minimized by effective orientation for new members.

All nonprofit organizations should require new board members to attend an orientation. However, a policy apart from an effective process is meaningless. Let’s explore the goals for this orientation and look at some tools that may ease the process.

Orientation Agenda

The primary purpose for this orientation is to provide new members with an overview of the nonprofit, its mission, history, and work. To do this, incorporate these actions in the agenda:

  • Review the roles and responsibilities for board members,
  • Provide an overview of the organization’s current strategic plan and initiatives,
  • Report on the finances and fundraising activities,
  • Provide an overview of the board structure (including committees, meeting processes).
The orientation meeting should be led by the board chair and attended by the executive director (or CEO) and other key staff. It should be open to any and all board members, especially committee chairs, who can discuss the work of their committee.

The formality of the meeting should align with your organization’s culture and values. This meeting should be well-organized but needn’t be stiff or follow parliamentary procedures. The purposes are to foster the relationship between the new board member(s), current board members, and the organization, and to equip the new members for effective service. You could do this over a breakfast or lunch that precedes the first board meeting for the new members.

If your organization is new, or if none of your board members ever participated in an orientation, it might be wise to provide this orientation to all board members—old and new. Of course, if you have never provided training on board member roles and responsibilities, perhaps it is best to include all of this in a one-day board retreat.

Orientation Tools

Develop, or update, your board handbook or manual and use it as a resource to help answer questions during the orientation session. The handbook could include:

  • General information about board roles and responsibilities (BoardSource has excellent materials);
  • literature about your organization’s programs and clients;
  • A recent newsletter and newspaper clippings;
  • Governance materials specific to your board, including board contact info, by-laws, conflict of interest statement, a list of board committees and their composition;
  • An organizational chart of the staff;
  • A recent set of financials.
Mentoring

Another way to help new board members succeed is to pair them with an experienced board member to mentor them for several months. This will provide informal opportunities for the new member to learn about the organization and ask questions they may not feel comfortable asking in the board meetings.

Board orientation is a key component of an organization’s capacity-building efforts. Nonprofit organizations that have worked with us to formalize their boards’ orientation processes have found that the effort resulted in increased involvement of board members in meetings and fundraising activities, as well as greater fulfillment from their board service.

Kevin D. Monroe is founder and managing partner of X Factor Consulting LLC, specializing in leadership development. He can be reached at kmonroe@xfactorllc.com or 404-713-0713.

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