Every organizational board member needs to have a certain level of knowledge about the organization they lead in order to do so effectively. It’s true that if they are “thrown into the deep end” they will eventually learn much of what they need through observations, questions, and osmosis. But this will come at a cost: stress and confusion for them; wasted time for the organization and fellow board members as the “newbies” get up to speed. We’ve also seen that the more confident a board member feels about their knowledge level, the more they will engage with important issues.
By providing a proper orientation to incoming board members, you can make them more comfortable, informed, and effective from the start. Let’s look at some ways to ensure your orientations deliver what they need.
Make no assumptions, and include a good overview
Board members may be inspired by your mission and decide they want to be part of it, without knowing much at all about how you get that mission accomplished. For example, the CEO of an IT services company may light up at a mission to make sure low-income kids get better tech education, but not know much about how, where, and with what kind of staff and volunteers you deliver that education, or what budget you operate on.
Be sure to briefly outline the structures, delivery methods, main issues and missions, and general operating expenditures of your organization early on.
Plan to keep it brief
While it’s true that the reason you’re doing this orientation is to reduce the amount of (often confusing) on-the-job-learning a board member needs, there’s also no question that people learn the most about a job by doing it. For that reason, be careful not to make the orientation session too long. Give them what they need; anything that doesn’t fit in that category should be cut or included in take-home materials.
Touch on past accomplishments
Though anyone coming onto your board is likely to believe in your mission, don’t miss a chance to cover the successes you’ve already racked up. This will instill the following in the new board member:
● Confidence that the organization they are joining is professional and accomplished
● Confidence their service is making a difference
● A word of mouth “PR story” they are likely to share with friends, family, and coworkers
● A sense of privilege that they have been recruited to lead such an organization
This section of the orientation is also a good place to touch on current and future initiatives. Seeing that they are part of an ongoing continuum of effort will help prepare new board members for the responsibility of making these new initiatives succeed.
Create solid materials that work well at home
To streamline your orientation and ensure it has long-term impact, design the presentation around the written materials you’ll be giving the orientee. Include them in a three-ring binder or wire-bound publication, so they will be easy to use as a future reference.
The orientation packet should include:
● The information you’re presenting during their in-person session
● Room in each section of the document for note-taking
● A board member job description and/or list of responsibilities
● An organizational chart, with contact information for senior staff
● A list of board members, with contact information
● Recent board meeting agendas and minutes
Start them on software
If your association uses certain software packages to manage projects and internal communication (such as Google Suites, Slack, Basecamp, etc.), include an introduction to these systems in the initial orientation. If new board members know how to use them, this will save time, build confidence, and facilitate communication. Include contact information for a staff member they can contact for help if they run into trouble.
Could Your Board Benefit from Working with an Association Management Company?
At V2, we’ve provided full service and outsourced services (including assisting boards) for national associations for many years and can deliver the resources and expertise that help you thrive. Get in touch with us today, and let’s see how we can improve your meetings, staff relations, and orientation together.