Board Orientation Strategies

Board Orientation Strategies

What is Board Orientation and Why is it Important?

Board orientation is a process to thoughtfully provide board members with the precise information they need for their role in the organization.

The purpose of board orientation is to provide important information about the organization and about the board’s roles and responsibilities.  It also serves to build a working relationship among board members that promotes ongoing support and expresses an agreement on how they will carry out their work. It is best to provide this information in written form prior to the request or upon acceptance of the position so they understand what is expected. The Board Orientation Sample Board Roles and Responsibilities can help you.New board members need to feel like they are an integral part of the board as soon as possible. If they don’t feel comfortable voicing their opinions, you will lose valuable input! More information will help everybody feel at ease.  Board Orientation is important and should provide answers to critical questions. The Board Orientation Critical Questions Template outlines some general questions board members may have. The best approach is to have a response that answers each question effectively.

How Do You Develop an Effective Board Orientation Process?
In planning your orientation, keep in mind that the experience levels of Board members will vary greatly.  Some will have served on previous Boards – some will have not.  Levels of interest and expertise will also differ. Make sure you develop a standard onboarding process, similar to the checklist in the Board Orientation Sample Checklist, so orientation with all board members is consistent.

Developing a Board Orientation Timetable is Also Crucial. 
The first stage of the process is the recruitment stage.  In this stage the potential board member should be given printed materials and verbal communications outlining the organization’s vision, mission and goals, programs and services, and other background information.  The prospect should also receive a list of expectations of Board members including number of meetings, committee assignments, length of Board term and an idea of the time commitment required.  This can be an opportunity to discuss any expectations the prospect may have for being involved on the Board and ensure you are on the same page. The Board Job Description Template will help you spell out your expectations effectively.

After the new member has been brought onto the board, and before the first board meeting, a meeting should be scheduled between the new Board member(s) and key individuals in the organization. Board member(s) should be provided with a detailed Board Manual.

Also during this meeting, there should be discussion on options for committee involvement.  Refer back to the Board member job description or description of roles and responsibilities presented during the recruitment process.  In most cases, committee involvement by board members is not an option but rather one of the expectations.  There should be a solid match between the interests, skills and preferences of the individual board member and the requirements and challenges of the committee they join. Using the Board Orientation Committee Terms of Reference template, lay out the expectations for each committee and the plan moving forward in terms of processes, timelines, and responsible individuals.

Board Manual/Handbook and Orientation Session, Together, are the Best Way to Be Sure Your Board Members Have a Clearly Defined Role.
Remember, effective orientation for new Board members includes a board handbook and manual that clearly describes the organization and outlines the responsibilities of Board Members.  Of course, nothing can replace an orientation session combined with written materials, to clearly outline the new Board members’ role. This Board Orientation Sample will help to ensure you don’t forget anything.

How Do You Prepare an Effective “Quick Reference” Board Handbook?
A Board Handbook should be developed and provided to all members of the Board to use as a quick reference on a number of topics. Providing board definitions is also a “handy” reference tool for new board members. Here is a Quick Reference Board Handbook Checklist template and a template for Board Definitions.

If a formal orientation is done every year with new and old members of the board, walking them through the content of the handbook is an important part of that board orientation.

How Do You Develop a Comprehensive Board Manual?
It is always good to have a Comprehensive Board Manual Checklist when putting together your Board Manual.   Remember, the manual should be concise and easy to read – a 150-page Board manual will likely not be read.  Include sample promotional materials such as brochures or newspaper clippings, without including every article ever written about the organization.

Including a refresher of Parliamentary Procedures that are used will also enhance the flow of the board meetings.

Encourage new Board members to approach the Board President or any other Board member if they have any questions after reviewing the manual.  New Board members may not feel comfortable voicing confusion or asking questions about policies and procedures at the first Board meeting, or Board orientation session, so be sure to approach them privately and ask them if they have any questions or concerns.  It is important that they understand their role and responsibilities within the Board and making sure you have an open line of dialog with all Board members is key to the success of your organization.

One last thing – Be sure to extend a warm welcome message to your new volunteer Board members as well. They need to be just as engaged as a paid board member!