From the Nonprofit Board Chair Seat Jnauary 2016 CT Nonprofit Advantage
Question: On-boarding appears to be the new language referring to how a board should introduce new board members to their jobs. What’s the thinking about what should happen in “on-boarding”?
Answer: Yes indeed, on-boarding has become the latest buzz-word for what many of us older folks refer to as board orientation. Language aside, it is important to do something to orient new board members to their new positions.
One hint: attending their first board meeting the day their term begins is not the singular best approach, albeit commonly practiced, for introducing a new board member to the board.
The work of board members is transactional (discussions, decisions, actions) and relational (the fuel that makes transactions comfortable and effective). A board orientation should be about building relationships as much as it is about providing the beneficial information for being an effective board member.
Core to effective on-boarding, consider having the following on-boarding tools in-place:
A meet-and-greet event where current board members meet incoming board members with some formal and some informal activities.
A mentoring program that matches current board members to incoming board members.
A board manual that includes Organizational details such as:
- Theory of Change, Mission, Values
- Strategies and Goals Program Overview
- Current Budget
- Current Year/Quarter Budget vs Actual
- Current Year/Quarter Profit/Loss
Board details such as:
- List of Board Members
- Board Agenda and Board Reports
- Board Meeting Rules of Order and calendar of meetings
- 6-months Board Minutes
Operational forms such as:
- Conflict of Interest Statement
- Board responsibilities statement (including amount $ to give)
Organizing documents such as:
- Bylaws, Articles of Incorporation, IRS letter, recent Tax Return
- D & O and Commercial liability insurance, investment, diversity, whistleblowing and related risk management policies
The formal “on-boarding” new member session should be just that: formally structured to ensure that an incoming board member will become knowledgeable and even conversant in the ways and culture of the board and nonprofit.
Do be sure to incorporate learning styles effectively using all the senses (yes, food matters).
While it is traditional to have the nonprofit’s exec/CEO and the board chair or the governance committee chair conduct the on-boarding event, experience indicates that having as many members of the rest of the board as well as senior staff, and even programming staff presenting their stories, will provide the new board member with a warmer welcome and an added depth and insight that might not otherwise be present with just two or three presenters.
To think more about designing and conducting a board orientation, BoardSource offers the title: Getting on Board with Effective Orientation. You might also, instead of making lots of paper copies of all the materials board members will need both for orientation and continued transactions, consider instead going “live” and either creating or subscribing to services like Board Effect saving trees and reducing members’ needs to carry around reams of paper to do their jobs.
The first principle of on-boarding—do it. Make the introduction to your new board members an experience that will serve them throughout their tenure.