The pandemic caught the entire world by surprise. During the first few months of the crisis, boards scrambled to make decisions about whether they should continue meeting in person, set up virtual meetings, or delay board meetings temporarily. As the months went on, and the virus continued to spread, it soon became clear that there was no way to know when it would be safe to meet in person again. It was a harsh reality for boards as they realized they simply had to learn how to continue leading their organizations for however long the pandemic would last.
While it became obvious that board meetings had to continue, new board discussions emerged about how to manage all the other board responsibilities and activities remotely. As the world waits for the virus to die down and the availability of vaccines, nonprofit board member terms are still ending, and vacancies are continuing to open up. Board member recruiting must go on in spite of hardships and inconveniences. New board members will be more effective if they continue to have access to an informative and engaging board orientation, even if it has to be done remotely.
It would be a misstep to overlook the importance of board orientation just because it’s inconvenient or requires more effort to put it together. During this time of immense societal need, people across the globe are relying more heavily on the valuable work of nonprofits. That’s an important reason for nonprofits to be dedicated to the work of their missions, and it requires stronger leadership than ever before.
Importance of Continuing Effective Board Leadership Work
As the word of the pandemic spread, many boards were forced to put their board meetings, board orientations, and other activities on hold. While that proved to be a temporary solution, the board’s legal and fiduciary duties remained unchanged. Taking a cue from how businesses were responding to the problem of holding in-person meetings safely, nonprofit boards soon learned how to conduct board business remotely.
Soon, nonprofit boards shifted to a remote model for conducting board business. The change in direction called attention to the board’s need to shift other activities to remote platforms as well. Board orientation and training must continue because of the long-term nature of the pandemic and the need for safety and protection.
Board member orientation is crucial to onboard new board members so they will engage and participate in board discussions actively and effectively. Fortunately, nonprofit boards now have the benefit of using video conferencing software and a board management portal to help them continue leading their organizations without interruption.
Making the Shift to Remote Board Orientation
Having to make the shift to remote board orientation may be challenging for some boards, but it’s not impossible. It’s merely a matter of adapting you are standard board orientation process to a virtual platform. There’s no need to change the content of your orientation, although it may be a good time to review it anyway.
Primarily, you’ll want to focus on and two main areas:
- The orientation schedule
- The roles of the facilitator and administrator
First, it’s a good idea to look at the agenda and schedule for your orientation and consider how to adapt it reasonably for a virtual environment. You may decide to hold longer sessions and shorten the number of days for your orientation. Alternatively, you may decide that it’s better to set up shorter sessions over a greater number of days. Bear in mind, that new board members will save time as they won’t have to travel to attend the orientation. Either way, it’s best to put the agenda and schedule in writing and send it out to all leaders and participants ahead of the orientation so they can plan their time accordingly.
Secondly, the facilitators for the board orientation will have to adapt their instruction style to accommodate virtual trainings.
It often helps to assign an extra person to handle the technical aspects of remote board orientation such as handling problems with participants logging into a video conference meeting and helping them understand how to use the technology. The tech person can also help to monitor the chat field to ensure that each person’s questions are getting answered promptly.
Businesses and people around the world are learning much about what to do, as well as what not to do during remote meetings. Virtual meeting etiquette counts, but you still have to consider the nuances of a remote environment.
Not everyone has a quiet place in their home. It’s difficult for some people to participate in a remote training for several hours without being interrupted by children, other family members, or pets. Instruct participants how to use the mute function for their microphone if they need to mask distract if sounds around them that they have no control over. Considering all things, it’s important to give your participants some degree of grace and flexibility.
You’ll have to decide whether you’re going to run your board orientation loosely, allowing participants to interject their questions and comments as you go, or ask them to raise a virtual hand if they wish to speak. You may base your decision, at least in part, on the number of people that are attending your training so you can keep good control.
You’ll find it beneficial to send out the agenda and orientation schedule ahead of the training which will allow for greater engagement. It will also reduce the number of questions and make the orientation more productive.
Also, think about other people that should participate in all or part of your board orientation such as seasoned board members and your executive director.
What Does the Future Hold for Board Orientations?
At this juncture, it’s impossible to know when your board will be able to begin holding in-person meetings again. Consider the benefits of using technology to help your board demonstrate strong leadership even in the face of adversity.
When you implement BoardEffect’s board portal system, new board members will have access to all of their board documents even when the board isn’t meeting. Also, your board portal offers the benefit of having board discussions remotely using a secure platform.
This is actually a great time to do a little experimenting with virtual board orientation. The things that you learn during this time may be things that benefit your board in the future. The current circumstances offer new opportunities for nonprofit boards to build on the things they learn to help them be more productive and efficient in the future when times are better.