An upcoming election of a new slate of board members should signal the start of planning for the new member orientation. The quality of the orientation process is a reflection on how well the board works as a group. When the orientation runs like a well-oiled machine, new members will come to their first board meeting with full confidence that they are joining a great organization. Even if you’ve organized an orientation in the past, a little pre-planning goes a long way towards running an informative, efficient orientation.
Orientations should be customized to the needs of the organizations, so there is no foolproof template for the perfect orientation schedule. Nonetheless, this handy checklist will make sure you cover the main components.
Plan the Orientation Schedule. Check!
The orientation can take place from a few hours or over the course of a couple of days. Plan the schedule and make copies for all presenters, existing board members, and new board members. Start a packet of information for each new member.
Preparing the Handbooks. Check!
The bulk of the orientation will be spent in providing an overview of the handbook. Review the current handbook for any policy changes, bylaw changes, updates, and program changes or additions. It looks unprofessional to ask attendees to update their handbooks as you go through them. New members will appreciate the time that you took to offer fully completed handbooks.
The handbook should cover key organizational issues in detail and should focus heavily on the new member’s new duties and expectations.
The orientation packet should also include a list of meeting dates, locations, and times. Be sure to include a recent contact list of current members and key individuals. Add copies of some of the most recent meeting minutes. Review the handbook to make sure it includes these other pertinent items:
- 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
If members will be able to access electronic copies of the manual, call their attention to the link where they can find it.
Confirm Schedules of Presenters. Check!
Select a couple of upcoming dates and send them out to potential presenters to find out if there are any scheduling conflicts. Pay particular attention to key individuals such as the board chair, executive director, CEO, or other important individuals. Assess which individuals represent the diversity and talent of the organization. Decide if you will need a third party facilitator and make contacts to secure one, if needed.
Assign Presenter to Speak About the History of the Organization. Check!
New members may have some familiarity with the organization, but it’s always helpful to have a better understanding of the organization’s roots and history. Be sure to add some compelling data and interesting stories to further connect the new member to his role. This presentation is often conducted by a key individual such as an executive director or CEO. A good place to do this is right after welcoming comments.
Schedule Time for a Tour of Facilities If Appropriate. Check!
Not all organizations have brick and mortar facilities, but if they do, it’s nice to include a tour of the property and facilities. This is often the start of the connection between a new board member and their work on the board.
Assign Presenters to Review Bylaws and Handbooks. Check!
Almost anyone can present this part of the orientation. It should be someone who is well organized and can communicate clearly. It’s not necessary to go into the entire handbook in detail. A brief overview works nicely.
Arrange Time for Board Member Meet and Greet. Check!
Include time for the existing board members to meet the new members. This can be in the form of a formal presentation where board members introduce themselves. Alternatively, it could be arranged as an informal gathering, where old and new members have the chance to get acquainted at will. This is a good time to pair up a new member with an existing board member as a mentor.
Prepare Question and Answer Session. Check!
Hopefully, new members will have some questions at the orientation. If all seems quiet, take time to answer some of the frequently asked questions. This may spark further questions from the new members.
Prepare New Member Letter of Agreement. Check!
When the orientation is completed, new members should have a full understanding of the organization and their new roles within the framework. Have a letter of agreement prepared as the final step in setting the new board members’ expectations.
Assemble Handbooks and Orientation Materials. Check!
Assemble a packet of information and handbook for each new member. Make sure that each new member and presenter has a visible name tag.
Pat Yourself on the Back. Check!
A strong orientation is a key part of making new board members feel that their position is a valued part of the group. Time spent planning on the front end will alleviate scrambling and unrest on the back end. New members will be prepared to attend their first meeting with the kind of eagerness and excitement that makes a board shine!