Board Orientation Yields High Interest, Strong Governance
By Kevin Monroe
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. Lets explore the goals for this orientation and look at some tools that may ease the process.
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:
The formality of the meeting should align with your organizations culture and values. This meeting should be well-organized but neednt 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 membersold 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.
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:
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.