Orient and Develop Your Members

Have you shared the good news? If not, it’s now time to notify the elected board members of the results and schedule them for a board orientation session.

 

Make it clear that all board members are required to go through orientation no matter how extensive their previous board experience is. Every board has its special characteristics, personal dynamics, requirements for involvement, and a structure that needs clarification.

A thorough orientation is actually beneficial for many reasons:


  • It is an initiation to board service; an introduction to the organization, its mission, and programs; clarification of future time and financial demands; an opportunity to get to know other team members; and a chance to form an educated foundation for the coming years on the board.
  • It is a chance to speed up the learning curve of new members and get them quickly engaged in the board’s activities. It ensures that every member is functioning within the same framework and with the same instructions. Orientation benefits the board as a team by providing an official launch for new partnerships and relationships.

 

What format should you use for the orientation?

  • The format of orientation can vary greatly by organization, lasting from a few hours to an entire day. It can take place in one sitting or over multiple sessions. Your previous conversations with the candidates should inform the type of orientation that will work best.
  • A candidate should walk away from the orientation with a firm understanding of your organizational mission and how he or she can help advance that objective. It should allow old and new members to get to know each other, cover key organizational issues in detail, and provide time for a question-and-answer session to clarify additional areas of concern or importance.
  • Make sure to provide new members with the board handbook. A board handbook is usually compiled by staff and must be updated regularly to reflect changes in policy and new programs and plans. The board manual should include the history and general description of the organization, all legal documents, financial data, organizational strategic framework, and other board-related information, including contact and biographical information for all board members, meeting dates, committee job descriptions, board member responsibilities, board policies, and recent meeting minutes. If you have a board portal with secured access to board members, the most efficient way to present the handbook is to post it online.
  • Have new members sign the letter of agreement verifying that they understand what is expected of them as a board member.

 

Who should participate in the orientation?

  • Naturally, the primary recipient of orientation education is the new board member. All new members should participate.
  • Every current board member has a role in orientation as well, whether to function as a mentor, represent the diversity of the team to the newcomer, make a presentation, or just get to know the new member(s).
    • Note that existing board members do not have to attend every aspect of the orientation (review the board manual, tour the organization’s facilities, learn how to read a financial statement, or go over the organizational chart); however, it is important for them to attend the sessions pertaining to board roles and responsibilities so they are familiar with the latest trends in nonprofit governance.
    • In addition, existing board members play a critical role in the transfer of knowledge and in setting a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere for new board members.
  • The chief executive plays a key role in the success of the orientation. The chief executive is the person most knowledgeable about the organization and thus the perfect person to share this information with new board members. The chief executive usually guides the staff to organize the meeting logistics.
  • The board may decide to engage a facilitator to conduct the orientation sessions — both so that all participants may contribute freely without other obligations, and to bring in an unbiased and professional approach to presenting information.

New Board Member Development

The orientation process should include a one-year development plan for the new board member. A development plan should include a mentor and providing resources and training around board roles and responsibilities.

Providing a mentor makes the orientation process friendlier and tends to accelerate learning. The mentor is available to answer questions and to guide the newcomer. A mentor can be a new member’s go-to person, answering questions that come up and encouraging participation. A mentoring relationship can be particularly helpful in explaining the history behind controversial board issues or past leadership changes.

To build, grow, and support a viable board mentoring culture, you should do the following:


  • Establish concrete learning objectives and long-term goals that you can measure and celebrate. If the prospective candidate is well-versed in board leadership, then develop a less formal plan that includes scheduled discussions and updates to gather the board member’s feedback and share your feedback on how things are going.
  • Secure visible support, involvement, and commitment from the highest levels of the board and staff. Involve the governance committee in developing, implementing, and evaluating the program.
  • Determine how you will pair mentors and mentees (this will depend on your goals and learning objectives). Consider involving both staff and board members as mentors. When necessary, be willing to look outside your organization for mentors; for example, your governance committee chair might ask a governance committee chair in a sister organization to be his or her mentor.

In addition to providing a mentor, it is helpful to train the new board member in basic roles and responsibilities. Even new board members who have held previous board positions can benefit from a refresher course around conflicts of interest and financial oversight. If the board member is well versed in basic responsibilities, consider offering a more in-depth training around a specific topic, like financial oversight and audits. Providing a new board member with a development plan reinforces how committed the organization is to the board and leads to a more willing and engaged board member. View the Additional Resources section below for more information about resources that can be used in your board development plans.

 

Additional Resources

For more information about strategic board recruitment, check out these additional resources:

Bring the Training to You!

BoardSource offers dynamic, highly interactive governance workshops on a variety of topics for your next meeting, retreat, event, training, or conference. Each of our live training programs can be customized to meet the unique needs of your organization, to adhere to time constraints or format preferences, and to appeal to different audience sizes.

For more information, visit our training page.

Congratulations

You have completed the recruitment process. Please remember, however, that recruitment should be an ongoing cycle that includes keeping in touch with promising prospects, re-evaluating board composition and current needs, and orienting newly added members.

If you have a specific question about board recruitment that was not answered here, take advantage of our members-only Ask-an-Expert e-mail service.