Tips for an effective board orientation

Too often, organizations spend a lot of energy recruiting board members, but then expect those board members to seamlessly transition onto the board with an effective orientation.

Here’s a quick tip sheet for an effective board orientation.

1. When a new person joins your board, you should give them a packet of information about the organization and its current board.

The New Board Member Information Packet should include:

  • An organizational fact sheet (1-2 pages of highlights).
  • A list of their fellow board members with contact information.
  • A statement of board responsibilities (this should already have been shared with them during their recruitment).
  • A staff organizational chart (if large enough to warrant it).
  • A copy of the bylaws.
  • A copy of the current budget and most recent financial statements.
  • A copy of the strategic plan.
  • A few examples of recent communication materials (e.g. last few issues of your newsletter, an annual report, etc.).
  • Upcoming board meeting dates.

Resist to the urge to pile on still more information — this is an instance where less is more if you want the packet absorbed.

2.  A couple weeks after sending them the packet, you should hold an orientation meeting.  Don’t put this meeting off for a longer period of time as 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.

3.  The right setting and length matters.

I recommend 60-90 minutes and NOT over  meal where you can’t look as easily at documents and will regularly be distracted by servers, food, etc.

4.  During 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.
  • Share the organizational vision.  This hopefully is captured in the strategic plan, but this is an opportunity for the Executive Director to personalize it and share his or her passion.
  • 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.  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.

5.  Follow-up a few weeks later

A few weeks later, the Exec. Director should initiate at least an email to the new board member to see what questions have come to mind following the orientation.   And ask them to do something (even if small) to trigger their first engagement beyond attending meetings.

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