You have to hand it to Goldilocks. In addition to fearlessly entering ferocious bears’ dens, this young lady knew precisely what she liked. When it came to bowls of porridge (neither too hot, nor cold), easy-chairs (neither too hard, nor soft), and preferences in bedding (neither too high, nor low), Goldilocks was unwavering in what captured her interest and kept her engaged. We believe board members can be a lot like Goldilocks: even when orienting themselves within unfamiliar surroundings, board members intuitively know what they find valuable the moment they see it. With this in mind, governance professionals can benefit greatly by following the “Goldilocks Rule” when it comes to providing board orientation packets for new board members.
Specifically, board orientation packets should be neither too long or dense so as to be impenetrable, nor so short or minimalist as to be inadequate. Too often, organizations try to cram every scrap of detail into the board orientation packet, resulting in a document that is hundreds of pages long, actually read by few, and useful to almost no one. Alternatively, orientation packs can be overwhelmingly fluffy, failing to provide enough detail to give board members the goods they need. Beyond the question of length, board orientation packets must offer a balanced perspective across a number of criteria.
The best board orientation packets do this in three main areas:
Ensure that new board members fully understand their roles and responsibilities. What are the minimum requirements for directors; but also what is the gold-standard in terms of exemplary board service?
Educate the board member regarding the organization’s environment. This can include everything from mission, vision, values, history, programs, strategic priorities, funding / financial standing, competition, to a basic SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis.
Help the board member acclimate to the board’s culture, dynamics, and the personalities of the players. This enables a new director to gain an understanding of how she / he will fit and be able to add value to the group and the organization.
Below is a roster of orientation essentials to consider including in board orientation packets. We believe these can help to achieve the objectives above, while still satisfying the all-important “Goldilocks Rule” of being “just right” for your trustees / directors:
- Company Overview: These range from simple Word documents to YouTube style “selfies” about the organization, to highly produced multi-media presentations. In any form, it should give new members a sense for the organization’s mission, values, history, and vision for the future.
- Bylaws: According to grantspace.org, “your bylaws are your organization’s operating manual. They define: size of the board and how it will function, roles and duties of directors and officers, rules and procedures for holding meetings, electing directors, and appointing officers, conflict of interest policies and procedures, how grant monies will be distributed, other essential corporate governance matters.”
- Board Policies: These may include such items as conflicts of interest policy, whistleblower protection policy, record retention policy, code of ethics, board member job description, board member annual agreement, gift acceptance policy, board meeting software / technology usage / data security policy, travel expense reimbursement policy, board member compensation policy, and others.
- Plans / Reports: These are generally captured in the most recent Strategic Plan and augmented by the Annual Report.
- Board Roster / Directory: List of board members and contact info, preferably with photos, details on committee assignments, areas of expertise / background, and tie to the organization.
- Financials: It would be helpful to get any of the following: current budget, most recent financial statements, last audit, current forecast; bonus credit for some visibility into funding history, including sources of funding.
- List of Programs: this can be in executive summary style, but new members should come away with a passing understanding of the organization’s programs, whom they serve, who runs them, and how they are funded.
- Board Calendar: This list of meetings and events allows board members to block off dates and ensure attendance, as well as getting a sense for the “board editorial calendar” (what topics the board deals with at different times of the year).
- Brief SWOT Analysis: This need not be onerous – even if it is just an abbreviated list of what is keeping the CEO awake at night – it’s valuable.
- Insurance: Proof of D&O insurance coverage (you just want to make sure they have it!)
These guidelines should help you compile useful board orientation packets. That said, one might reasonably argue that including all of the above could result in a “Papa Bear” packet (too long, dense, hard to be easily digestible). With this in mind, we’d suggest abbreviating as many of these resources as possible, while also providing links to digitized versions of full docs for those that are as curious as our friend Goldilocks. Taking these steps should help keep your board members from turning into a pack of angry bears.