Board Orientation Do’s and Don’ts

Happy Board!I was thumbing through our Board Recruitment & Orientation workbook this weekend, looking for a particular form. (I shouldn’t confess how often I’ll be almost done creating a form, only to do a palm-smack to the head, remembering that the exact form I need is in a book I wrote. Not that that’s what happened here… Ok, it’s precisely what happened here. But I digress…)

Anyway, while paging through the book, I found this and wanted to share it here.

Board Orientation Do’s and Don’ts

Don’t focus on the operational / fiscal oversight issues to the exclusion of the reason the organization exists – the difference you intend to make in your community.

Do strike a balance between oversight issues and leadership issues – how board members can be effective leaders towards the difference your organization intends to make.

Don’t let decisions about content be entirely staff-driven.

Do have board members themselves determine what new board members need know, with input from the CEO. Do set aside 15 minutes for the board to answer this question: “What do you wish you had known when you joined the board, that would have made you more effective more quickly?” If their responses focus entirely on oversight issues, do ask, “What do you wish you knew about our mission? What do you wish you knew about the difference we are making?” Use that list to determine the content of the orientation session.

Don’t allow the orientation activities to be entirely determined by the staff.

Do have the board’s Governance Committee use the board’s brainstormed list to create the day’s agenda. Do have the committee determine which portions the staff should present, and specifically what content they want presented at that time. That will help alleviate situations such as a staff person waxing eloquent for ½ hour about his/her program.

Don’t make your orientation program a whole day of lectures and reports. And don’t consider the day “interactive” simply because you provide time for Q&A after those reports.

Do have board members spend time in discussion about the passion that led them to this organization and this board.  Do have them share the path in their lives that brought them to the board, the difference they are hoping to make by being part of the board.  This will not only provide context for the oversight issues they will be learning about; it will immediately engage them with each other’s hearts and minds.

Don’t wait until orientation to provide a tour of your facility(ies).

Do have the tour occur as part of the getting-to-know you of the recruitment process. After all, how can someone say “yes” to governing the organization if they are not certain what they will be governing? A tour with deeper information may be a great part of the orientation, but don’t let that be the first time your board members have become physically familiar with the place!

Don’t put off the orientation until board members “have time.”

Do calendar the board’s whole year’s activities, from adoption of the budget to election of officers / annual meeting, to the annual orientation. That will give everyone notice a year in advance of the orientation!

Don’t think just because someone holds a professional position in their “real life,” that they necessarily understand financial matters. A great number of board members from all walks of life make financial decisions without completely understanding the core financial issues at hand.

Do include a brief review of 101 level finance in your orientation. Do have the treasurer offer to privately mentor anyone who is embarrassed that they don’t understand financial matters.

Don’t think orientation is just for new board members.

Do have the board annually determine what all board members need to learn in order to govern, and have them all attend orientation every year. You can call it “Orientation and Board Re-Training”!

Don’t stock your board manual so full of “stuff” that it is no longer useful.

Do ask the board what materials would be helpful to have with them at all times, and use that list to build your manual.

Don’t forget boards need ongoing education, all year long – both on the specifics of what the organization does, and on overall themes related to Governance.

Do consider making some of your “orientation” an ongoing year-round learning process, perhaps just 15 minutes at every board meeting.

Don’t forget the simple introductory things that make the human side of boards work more smoothly.

Do wear name tags at all meetings. It helps new people feel less new, and helps outsiders address board members by name, instead of “The gentleman in the brown sweater.” And do have food, even if it’s just popcorn – people work better together when they’re fed!

Don’t make your annual orientation all business.

Do have a light dinner immediately following your annual orientation. Boards work best when they know each other better, and the orientation will give board members much to talk about over dinner afterwards!

And most of all, DO have fun!

But beware: If your orientation program is fun, board members will expect to have fun at board meetings. (Which seems like it is leading to a Do’s and Don’ts post for meetings, now doesn’t it?!)

Now it’s your turn – what Do’s and Don’ts would you add to this list?

This list has been adapted from Board Recruitment & Orientation: A Step-by-Step, Common Sense Guide (3rd Edition).

2 thoughts on “Board Orientation Do’s and Don’ts”

  1. Don’t let staff lead the entire board orientation.

    Do have board members actively involved in presenting to their new peers…especially about things like values, expectations of board members (attendance, giving, confidentiality, conflict of interest, etc). The more the board is involved in presenting the orientation, the better…whatever is being presented should be interesting to “old” board members as well.

    Don’t expect that you can cover everything in one session.

    Besides ongoing board training/development, Do assign a mentor or “buddy” to each new member who they can contact as they wish with questions.


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