Large or small, every board of directors should hold an orientation for new board members because it benefits the organization, including the scope of people it serves. All boards have a unique set of dynamics and expectations. An effective new board member orientation will be carried out by key individuals using a specific structure. Regardless of how extensive a board member’s experience may be, all new board members should be required to go through the orientation process.
There is no exact formula for how to conduct an orientation. Depending upon the needs of the organization, the orientation can be scheduled to cover anywhere from a few hours to a full day. The orientation can be scheduled in one day, or taken in nuggets over a few days. Having a specific, designated plan for new member orientation is more important than how the orientation is carried out.
How Orientation Benefits New Board Members
The orientation sets the stage for the new board member’s initiation to board service. For many board members, the orientation process offers the first glimpse of how an organization runs. The orientation time provides an opportunity to better comprehend the organization, its mission, and its programs. During the training, new members will gain a greater understanding of their roles within the organization and how that may affect their schedules, finances, or other personal demands. The orientation process helps new members get up to speed so that they can get quickly involved in performing board duties. Overall, it’s an opportune time for members to develop an informed foundation for the work ahead.
Role of Existing Board Members
Think past orientation for new team members by inviting existing board members to the session. Beyond the chance to get acquainted with new team members, bringing new and old members together during orientation creates an environment where all members function within the same framework, according to the same rules.
By involving existing members in the orientation process, new members gain insight to the board’s diversity. Existing board members may offer to mentor new members or make a presentation to them in their area of expertise. Listening to such presentations allows new members the chance to learn more about various aspects of the organization in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
The key individuals involved in leading the orientation are the chief executive, board chair, and governance committee. The board may also opt to include outside experts. The chief executive has the most knowledge about the organization, so he or she should take the primary role in setting up and implementing the logistics of an effective orientation process. The chief executive’s presentation is supplemented by the board chair and governance committee.
In most cases, the chief executive will take the lead role in conducting the orientation. Alternatively, an independent facilitator may be appointed to conduct the orientation sessions. The benefit to engaging an independent facilitator is that the approach to presenting the information is impartial and unbiased. This approach creates an environment where members can contribute freely.
What New Board Members Should Learn at Orientation
Since orientation is the official launch for new members, it should be structured to cover the following items:
- Key organizational issues in detail
- List of meeting dates, locations, and times
- Contact list of key individuals
- Requirements for board member involvement
- Review of the board handbook
- Copies of recent meeting minutes
- Question and answer session
The bulk of the board education time will be spent reviewing the board manual.
The Board of Directors Handbook
The Board Handbook serves as the new member guide to board-related duties. Board members should receive a copy of the Board Handbook at the orientation. When applicable, new board members should be provided the link to where the handbook is posted online.
In anticipation of a new board member orientation, existing board members should review the Board Handbook to make sure that it is updated with any new policy changes and plans. They should also review the handbook to make sure that new programs have been added to it.
The Board Handbook should include the history and general description of the organization, as well as any other compelling or interesting information. Among other board-related information, the Board Handbook should include:
- A welcome letter from the chief executive
- Mission and vision statements
- Board by-laws
- Financial data
- Organizational strategic framework
- Committee job descriptions, chairs and co-chairs
- Board documents
- Board member duties and responsibilities
- Any other information that the board feels is appropriate
As a final step in the orientation process, board members should be asked to sign a letter of agreement stating what is expected of them as new board member. Letters should be kept with other important company documents.
The real work of the board member begins shortly after orientation. Orientation, in and of itself, is generally not enough to assist a new board member in pursuing his new responsibilities. Existing members can help by offering to be a mentor and to provide other resources to provide ongoing training. It’s helpful to develop a one-year development plan for new members to encourage participation. Active engagement right from the beginning of the term keeps the new member’s passion for the organization’s mission alive in the first few months of service. The end result is a thriving relationship for the new member, the existing board, and the organization.