Recruiting good board members is only the beginning. To keep them informed, involved, and motivated, the board should continually evaluate itself and commit to effective board practices. Those practices begin with a comprehensive orientation for new board members.
Just before their first official meeting, and in the few weeks following, bring new board members up to speed on the organization’s structure, staffing, operations, financial status, calendar of events, and other relevant activities . These briefings usually led by the board chair, governance committee chair, chief executive, or a combination of the three may be dispersed over several weeks or grouped together in one longer session. Although newly elected members won’t grasp everything immediately, they will feel more knowledgeable and therefore more comfortable when they begin participating in board business.
During the orientation, distribute copies of the board policy manual and discuss its importance. Emphasize that the policies contained in the manual are an integral part of the board’s culture, reflecting how it truly functions, not simply a list of good practices that remain in a book on the shelf. If new board members understand that following these policies is expected by their fellow members, they are more likely to do so to fit in with the existing culture.
Review the other expectations for board service, as outlined during the recruitment process. Allow time for questions and for socializing as well. When board members attend their first meeting, their learning curve will be much shorter and they will be able to recognize some familiar faces in the boardroom.
SUQQESTED ACTION STEPS
1. Board members, review your organization’s orientation for new board members, ensuring that it includes a clear explanation of roles, responsibilities, and accountability.
2. Board members, if your organization does not have a formal orientation program, develop a checklist of topics to cover.
3. Board members, ask members new to the board within the last two or three years to comment on how the organization could have prepared them better for board service. Incorporate their suggestions into your organization’s orientation procedures.
- What does a prospective board member need to know?
- How can our board become more diverse?
- How can a membership organization build an effective board?
- What is the chief executives role in board recruitment?
- How can we recruit active, involved board members?
- How should we select our board officers?
- What board officers should we have?
- What is the ideal relationship between the board chair and the chief executive?
- What are the attributes of a high performing board?
- What is the role of the board chair?
- Should our board have advisory councils?
- Does our board need an executive committee?
- How can our committees be most effective?
- What types of board committees should we have?
- How should we structure our board?
- What is the best size for our board?
- How does the board avoid the extremes of rubber stamping and micromanaging?
- How does a board function as a team?
- How should the board connect and communicate with constituents?
- What are the basic responsibilities of a nonprofit board?