Effective new board member orientation meetings

May 10, 2012

Filed under: Board Development — Tags: — jonathanpoisner @ 9:33 am

As I work with more clients, I’m struck by the number who acknowledge that they don’t do a good job — or any job for that matter — orienting new board members.

They acknowledge it’s a mistake, but seldom does that change.  For many of them, the task seems daunting.

Yet, it shouldn’t.  A board member orientation isn’t rocket science.

Here’s my quickie guide.

When a new person joins your board, you should give them a packet of information about the organization and its current board.   A week or two later, you should then meet with them to develop a plan for their activities over their first year.

The New Board Member Information Packet should include:

  • An organizational fact sheet.
  • A list of board members with contact information.
  • A copy of the bylaws.
  • A copy of the current budget and most recent financial statements.
  • A copy of the strategic plan — if you don’t have one, that’s the subject of another blog posting.
  • A few examples of recent communication materials (e.g. last few issues of your newsletter, an annual report, etc.).
  • Upcoming board meeting dates

Then, a couple weeks later, hold the orientation meeting.  Don’t put it off if you want to create a culture from the start that your board involves active engagement.

Ideally, the orientation meeting includes both the Executive  Director and a board chair or board development committee chair.  But the Executive Director should do this alone if their board leadership isn’t able or ready to participate.

If you have two board members start at the same time, it’s okay to orient them at the same time.

Then, for the board orientation meeting, you should:

  • Get to know them more as an individual.  The quality of personal relationships matters — take the opportunity to build them during one-on-one or two-on-one meetings.
  • See what questions they have, particularly related to the strategic plan.  It’s as important for them to understand the why of the strategy as the specifics of your program.
  • Walk them through the budget and financial statements — make sure they understand your current financial situation and how you report on your finances.
  • Develop objectives for their participation in their first year.  These objectives should include: a decision on which committee(s) to join and their fundraising goal for the year.  If they want to hold off on picking a committee for a couple of meetings, that’s okay — but then put it on your calendar to circle back to them when the time is appropriate.

Some of this may have already been covered, of course, in a board recruitment meeting.  But don’t hesitate to repeat yourself a bit.  My wife often has to repeat herself several times before I remember something.   Don’t assume new board members will remember everything you’ve told them — particularly if it’s one fact that came up at a board recruitment meeting.

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