On-Boarding … or Board Orientation? The Process for Introducing New Board Members to Their Jobs
Yes, indeed, “on-boarding” has become the latest buzzword for what many of us older folks refer to as “board orientation.” Language aside, it is important to do something to orient new board members to their new positions.
One hint: Attending their first board meeting the day their term begins is not the singular best approach, albeit commonly practiced, for introducing a new board member to the board.
A second hint: While the norm has been to “shop” for board members within board members’ networks, instead, consider recruiting from volunteers already active within the organization or recruit individuals to board committees, where prospects can “get their feet wet,” while demonstrating their potential as board members.
The work of board members is transactional (discussions, decisions, actions) and relational (the fuel that makes transactions comfortable and effective). A board orientation should be about building relationships as much as it is about providing the beneficial information for being an effective board member.
The core to effective on-boarding is to consider putting the following tools in-place:
• A meet-and-greet event where current board members meet incoming board members with some formal and informal activities.
• A mentoring program that matches current board members to incoming board members.
• A board manual that includes organzational details, such as: Theory of change; mission and values; strategies and goals program overview; current budget; current year/quarter budget versus actual; current year/quarter profit/loss.
A few board details includes a list of board members; a board agenda and board reports; board meeting rules of order and calendar of meetings; six-months of board minutes
Operational forms to include consist of a conflict of interest statement and a board responsibilities statement (including amount money to give).
Here are some organizing documents to include:
• Bylaws, articles of incorporation, IRS letter, recent tax return.
• Directors and officers and commercial liability insurance, investment, diversity, whistle-blowing and related risk management policies.
The formal “on-boarding” new member session should be just that: Formally structured to ensure that an incoming board member will become knowledgeable and even conversant in the ways and culture of the board and nonprofit.
Do be sure to incorporate learning styles effectively using all the senses (yes, food matters). While it is traditional to have the nonprofit’s executive/CEO and the board chair or the governance committee chair conduct the on-boarding event, experience indicates that having as many members of the rest of the current board, as well as senior staff and even programming staff presenting their stories will provide the new board member with a warmer welcome and an added depth and insight that might not otherwise be present with just two or three presenters.
To think more about designing and conducting a board orientation, BoardSource offers the title: “Getting on Board with Effective Orientation,” which you can get by visiting goo.gl/LJxzoK.
Also, instead of making lots of paper copies of all the materials board members will need both for orientation and continued transactions, consider going live and creating or subscribing to board portal services like Board Effect, resulting in saving trees and reducing members’ needs to carry around reams of paper to do their jobs.
The first principle of on-boarding: Do it. Make the introduction to your new board members an experience that will serve them throughout their tenure.