DDAA Board Member Blog Post: Board Member Orientation
By: Heather Feldman, Executive Director, Georgia Mountains Regional Commission
Having a new board member is only the first step in what you hope will be a mutually rewarding relationship. Whether orientation of your new board member is approached informally or formally, be sure to include the basics needed for new board members to become engaged in the work of the board right away, and to serve as a committed ambassador and advocate for your nonprofit’s mission for a long time to come.
When onboarding new members, a proper orientation process sets the stage for a seamless transition. It may be a break-or-make moment for them and your organization, as the onboarding process offers their first glimpse of what’s expected of them and how the organization runs. A proper board member orientation leaves new members inspired, engaged, and ready to contribute. It should also prepare them for their new roles and responsibilities.
I will explore the GMRC’s approach by answering the why, what, when, where, and how for new board member orientation.
Why: It’s a process to thoughtfully provide new members with precise information that they need to be successful in their role as part of the whole organization. Orientation also helps to:
- identify the culture, mission, and values
- establish communication
- provides important information about your agency
- identify roles and responsibilities
- set expectations
- build reputation
- control messaging
What: This is the opportunity to help them understand governance, fiduciary duties, establish trust in management, and focus on the strategic direction and goals of the organization.
When: Immediately! The first point of contact should be you. They need to know who you are and who to contact. Additionally, you control the message you want them to understand. The GMRC practices the 48-hour rule – make an initial contact (email, call, text) within the first 48 hours of their appointment whether they respond or not. GMRC also conducts an informal orientation (one-on-one) BEFORE their first board meeting.
On a more formal note, GMRC conducts a yearly board member orientation in lieu of a regular monthly meeting. Survey members after completion to get their feedback on what worked and what types of information may be needed to discuss in the future.
Who: Depending on whether it is conducted informally (one-on-one) or a group setting will depend on what will work best. At the yearly group orientation, GMRC will have the Executive Director and Senior Management Team in attendance. Additionally, we include the attorney who discusses legal statutory requirements, bylaws, etc.
Where: Since board members are giving their time to your organization, it is usually best to travel to them if you are doing something informal. However, there are merits to having them come to your office, so they can familiarize themselves with your location, staff, etc.
How: Start your onboarding process by creating a new board member welcome packet/orientation manual. An informative manual should include:
- History – written history or fact sheet on the organization, articles of incorporation, maps of the region. This should also include information on how the agency has grown and developed over time. It should be short, relevant, and inspirational.
- Organizational – bylaws, organizational chart, staff directory, listing of current board members, and committees. GMRC also publishes a photo directory of all council members.
- Financial – most recently adopted budget, program scope of work, and most recently audited financial statement.
- Strategic Direction – annual reports, brochures, strategic plan, core values, recent successes and accomplishments.
- General Operations – schedule of board meetings, committee assignments, programs and services.
Remember that orientation is an ongoing process. Members should be well informed about how the organization operates and understand the board-staff relationship. Effective board members are: Mission-Focused, Engaged, Enthusiastic, Collaborative, Strategic, Diverse, Professional, and committed!
Heather J. Feldman, Executive Director
Georgia Mountains Regional Commission