Orienting New Board Members

Bringing a new board member on board requires more than an introduction to their new colleagues. To welcome and acculturate them to the board, take the time to plan the process. First, consider creating both individual and group orientation sessions – particularly if you establish one time of year to bring on new members you can create a single annual group orientation. At the group orientation, bring a board manual for each new board member. Such a handbook introduces them in a more formal way to the inner workings of the organization and the board. Then, individuals can ask questions at their one-on-one orientation meeting with the board chair or executive director.

All new board members should be invited to go through the orientation process, which should be made as productive, convenient, efficient, and as thoughtfully entertaining as possible. Even old board hands who have served on boards of other organizations need orientation to your organization.

The purpose of orientation is to bring new members up to speed as quickly as possible so that they can become effective board participants and working committee members. To that end, they need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your organization, how they can contribute and work effectively for its benefit, and learn what the organization expects of them.

It is desirable to have each new, first-time board member oriented before attending his or her first board meeting. Many boards that hold annual orientations also invite current members to attend, making these sessions a comprehensive review to keep everyone up-to-date. Orientation sessions can be held on-site at the nonprofit, or at a board member’s office conference room, with key people from your organization making presentations and answering questions.

The orientation meeting is a good opportunity to instruct new board members and remind returning board members about the differences between governance, which is the responsibility of the board and operational management, which is the responsibility of the chief executive and his or her staff. It may be useful to state that it is always important for board members both as individuals and as a group to be very mindful and sensitive to this distinction.

NEXT MONTH IN THIS SERIES: Involving New Board Members

Planning an Individualized, “Foreground” Cultivation Process, Part II