The Healthy Nonprofit: Best Practices for Board Orientation
You have carefully recruited, interviewed, and vetted the next slate of board members. These eager additions are ready to commit to your mission, but how can you ensure that they are prepared to carry your organization into the future?
Board orientation is a crucial first step.
Your orientation process should get new members to acclimate and contribute in their new roles as soon as possible. At its core, the process should leave everyone feeling valued, appreciated, informed, and inspired.
Ideally, board orientation should start when you are considering a prospective new member. At this stage you can set the bar for success. During your initial conversations, prospective board members should come away with five basic understandings:
1. How and why their particular skills and talents will be valued by the board and the organization
2. Roles and responsibilities of board membership
3. Realistic minimum time commitment
4. Challenges and opportunities facing the organization
5. Specific fundraising requirements
Prepare Briefing Documents
Every nonprofit organization needs thorough, updated briefing documents. Present them in advance of new board members’ first meeting. Your package should contain the following:
Compelling overview: Include a summary or brochure outlining the history of the organization and its goals. The intent is to turn new members into ambassadors for the organization, so give them persuasive, inspirational language they can adopt as their own when speaking about your mission.
Recent accomplishments: Document successes and works in progress, and ask members to consider where they can add value.
Organizational chart: Help board members navigate the “who’s who” of your staff by including an org chart and directory. Include information about the function of each staff position and a staff bio. Also include board bios and contact information.
Roles and responsibilities: Recap roles and responsibilities to reinforce your earlier discussions with new members and remind them of what you expect.
Governance, budget, and IRS documents: Include bylaws; recent minutes; recent IRS Form 990s; governance policies, including those regarding conflicts of interest and gift acceptance; executive director and staff compensation and benefits details; directors and officers insurance; and any public disclosures of interest. Also include the most recent set of financial statements and a current budget.
Upcoming events: Board participation in events is a must, so be sure these important dates are on members’ calendars.
Fundraising goals and practices: Because board members often play key roles in fundraising, sharing your forecasts will be important to their success.
Meet and Greet
Many boards prefer to hold a standalone orientation meeting for new members before their first working board meeting. This separate time allows new members to get to know each other, become familiar with organizational basics, and get detailed answers to specific questions.
The idea is to not only acclimate but inspire your recruits and let them know why each was selected for the board. Include a “vision” presentation to give the new board members a clear picture of where your organization is going, and provide details about yearly fundraising cycles, events, and planned campaigns.
Serving on a nonprofit board is a lot of work. Be sure you show your gratitude to your new — and existing—board members by respecting their time, honoring their input, and thanking them often for their help.