Welcome “A-Board!” – Tips for a Successful Board Orientation

How to have a successful board orientation to bring new and returning members up to speed, provide valuable context, and educate on best practices.

The rare and infrequent times that your board members can physically gather in one place are invaluable. With day jobs, families and other commitments, being a volunteer board member is yet another thing they need to add to their already very full plate. When you have the opportunity to have all of them in the same room at the same time, it’s important to make the absolute most of it, especially when it’s your yearly board orientation session.

To maximize the time a board has together while focusing on the strategic needs of the society, it is pertinent that the association’s leadership help improve or implement a comprehensive board orientation program.

An orientation program brings new and returning board members up to speed on key issues, provides background information on past decisions and educates the entire board on best practices to ensure a high functioning and efficient board.

Learn the Structure
Provide the board with background information on the structure of the organization including staff organization charts to committees and workflows. A board that knows the proper chains of the command and who is responsible for what is going to stay focused on their own goals. Never assume that a new board member knows anything about the structure of the organization, it’s better to review all the basic information rather than have a member that feels uninformed.

In addition to the structure, provide the board with the needed contact and communication information for the organization specifically the board and committee members. Let them know about any communication platforms that the board, committees or staff use to stay in touch and distribute information. For example, if there is a board member that responds better and quicker to a text versus an email, make sure all are aware of this preference.

The topic of financials require a great deal of focus during a new board orientation. Reading financial statements may be new to some board members and time should be taken to ensure they are comfortable reading and understanding them. Knowing the economic realities of the association is paramount for the board to make decisions. Spend time talking about the different revenue sources, the cash flow of the organization and its reserves. If necessary, the organization’s accountant can attend or call in to the meeting to answer any specific questions a new member may have.

Keep the Past in the Past
Nothing is more frustrating to board members-current and new-than when a situation that has been addressed and dealt with comes up again for the sake of irrelevant conversation. Leave old policies, procedures and programs in the past. If they are not in practice now, there is no reason to make them a part of the meeting. For new board members, hearing negativity about a program or product (or person because that happens too!) that wasn’t successful can be very discouraging and can ruin their first in-person board meeting experience.

Starting a new board term is an exciting time for both the organization and the board. It is important to have a clear agenda and guide to ensure that new members leave informed and ready to enthusiastically serve as a member of the board.