In 2021, 159 first-time directors joined S&P 500 boards, about 35% of new members were added to public company boards, and 50% of the private boards also welcomed new members.
This becomes a challenge for many organizations, as new board members are often first-timers and need to be trained on their new roles and responsibilities.
In this article, you’ll learn what board orientation is, what challenges new members face, and what can be done to make the onboarding process easier and more effective. There’s also a board orientation checklist that you can use to prepare all necessary materials for new directors.
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What is board orientation?
Board orientation is the process of introducing new board members to the organization and providing them with knowledge about the company. The information they receive usually contains:
- Organization’s mission
- Organization’s history
- Board members’ fiduciary duties
- Board members’ roles and responsibilities
- Bylaws, policies, and other governing documents
The importance of board orientation
Here’s why nonprofit board orientation is crucial:
- It ensures that all new members understand their roles and responsibilities.
- It familiarizes new board members with the organization’s history and values.
- It introduces the board to the organization’s strategic plan and goals.
- It establishes clear expectations.
- It identifies the training needs.
- It builds a working relationship among board members.
- It familiarizes new members with the process of making decisions.
- It inspires new members.
Challenges that new board members face
New board members encounter a number of challenges and problems, such as:
- The difficulty with understanding board roles and responsibilities because of a lack of familiarity with how the organization operates
- The necessity to become an active and efficient member of a new team and develop enough confidence to speak at the board table
- The need to establish healthy and productive relationships with current board members and other stakeholders
- The stress of making important decisions that might have a significant impact on the organization
How to prepare board orientation materials
Here’s an 8-step algorithm of how to prepare board orientation materials:
- Review the new board member’s duties and responsibilities. Be sure to include detailed information on tasks, roles, potential conflicts of interest, and other issues related to the board service.
- Outline a timeline. Create a timeline that covers what a new member will learn during the orientation and how long each step should take.
- Gather information. Include info on the organization, board’s bylaws, regulations, policies, audited financial statement, approved budget, and other relevant documents. You can refer to the board member orientation checklist for the full list.
- Prepare a binder of materials. Gather all materials in one binder for each board member so that they can take it home, review it, and take notes before the board orientation meeting.
- Create a welcome package. Prepare a welcome letter, contact information, board orientation plan, and helpful tips that can be useful to a new member and add them to other orientation materials.
- Employ a gradual approach. Encourage continuous learning and don’t make it too difficult for new board members by giving them too much information and too little time.
- Find a mentor for new members. Ask a veteran board member to be a board buddy and help a new board member understand their new responsibilities.
- Leverage technology. Make use of board management software — an online platform that helps with board management and its aspects like preparing for the board orientation process, sharing board materials, and conducting virtual board meetings.
How to run board orientation sessions
Learn who should attend and how to run board sessions below.
Who should attend
Here’s who should be invited to the board orientation session:
- Board chair
- Executive director
- Fellow board members
- Nominating and governance committee chairs
- Chair of the recruitment committee
- Lead program person
- Lead development person
They all should lead relevant portions of the orientation, welcoming and inspiring new members, and educating and explaining what roles they play individually.
What to include in the agenda
Include the following points in your orientation session agenda:
- Formal introductions of new board members by the nominating or recruitment committee
- Personal introductions by new and veteran board members, executive director, and board chair
- Presentations by seasoned board members explaining board roles and procedures
- Brief presentation by staff about the scope of the organization’s services
- A small group discussion by interest areas, like financial, personnel, or board fundraising
- Statement of expectations of new board members
- Questions from new board members
You can also get acquainted with Board Portal’s article on how to announce new board members to know how to do it right internally and publicly.
Board orientation checklist
Here’s a new board member orientation checklist you can follow to ensure proper onboarding.
Board orientation packet
Let’s first start with what documents to include in the orientation packet:
- Written notice of a new member’s election, start and end dates of their term, board meetings dates, and info about the board member orientation process
- Statement of the nonprofit’s mission, history, and key accomplishments
- The strategic planning document, the executive summary, and the vision document
- Overview of the organization’s services
- Most recent financial statements, current annual budget, and organization’s actual revenue and expenses.
- Bylaws, policy statements, and procedures adopted by the board
- Personnel policies, staff organizational chart, number of professional and non-professional staff, an overview of unions or employee associations
- List of all current board members’ names, addresses, and phone numbers
- List of board committees and chairperson
- A list of upcoming meetings, their times, and places, and an agenda for the first board meeting
- Most recent board meeting minutes
Tips for new board members during a board orientation
As a new board member, follow the recommendations below for a good board orientation process:
- Develop relationships with other board members. Get to know other board directors, their experience, opinions, approach to work, etc.
- Ask questions. Feel free to ask questions and discuss topics with other board members. The more you’re engaged in the process of learning, the better.
- Take notes. Write down everything you consider important and that you can potentially use further in your work.
- Prepare for your first board meeting. Prepare for a board meeting by reviewing a meeting protocol, studying the agenda and meeting materials, and completing any assigned tasks in a timely manner.
- Demonstrate commitment. Show the executive director, board chair, and other board members that you’re fully engaged in the process and ready to contribute.
- Speak your mind. Relax, and don’t be afraid to join the discussion and participate in the decision-making process during your first board meeting.
Directors who do their best during the new board member orientation and try to contribute from the first board meeting become the most productive board members and are considered future leaders.
Board management software for a successful board orientation process
One of the board orientation best practices is the usage of a board portal — a centralized and highly secure platform where board members and staff can:
- Store, share, and access board materials, including documents for the board orientation
- Schedule, manage, and run paperless board meetings
- Distribute agenda and meeting minutes
- Assign tasks and deadlines
- Communicate and collaborate with other board members
There are a number of board portal vendors that a for-profit or nonprofit board can turn to today. However, how do you choose one that will suit your needs? Board-room.org can help.
Board-room.org provides board software reviews that contain information on:
- Security level
- Free trial and demo version
- Whom a provider best serves
Here’s how Board-room.org makes board portal reviews:
- Analyze feedback from real users
- Get in touch with the board portal vendors and ask questions about their products
- Try out demo versions and free trials to see how platforms work
- Create unbiased reviews without giving preference to specific providers
According to Board-room.org, iDeals Board ranks #1 by both experts and users. The vendor provides customers with advanced tools for collaboration, top-notch security features, professional client support, and reasonable pricing.
Therefore, if you’re looking for good software for board management and successful board orientation, iDeals Board would be a great choice.
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What is board orientation?
Board orientation is a process of providing new board members with information on their new roles and responsibilities and helping them onboard efficiently and comfortably.
Why is board orientation important?
Board orientation is important because it ensures that all new board members understand their new responsibilities, establishes clear expectations, identifies training needs, and builds a working relationship among board members.
What should board orientation include?
The most important documents to include are the organization’s mission, history, recent financial reports, and financial documents like the approved budget, the strategic planning document, bylaws, the organizational staff chart, a list of upcoming board meetings, and an agenda for the first board meeting.
What is the order of board members?
The order is the following: chair of the board, vice chair, secretary, treasurer, and board members.