Thorough orientation of new board members is crucial for a successful year for the organization.  Misunderstandings and confusion can waste time and resources and undermine an association’s operations.

            Most boards operate on some kind of staggered term system so that there is some continuity of board personnel, keeping some more seasoned members on hand as new members come in.  When scheduling the board orientation, which can be a partial-day, full-day, or multi-day event, depending on the needs and wishes of the organization, it is important that all new members and at least a few experienced members are in attendance. Fortunately, technology provides other options, such as teleconferencing, web conferencing/web seminars, and on-line chatting, in addition to traditional in-person meetings, to make scheduling more doable for all concerned, even when travel may be an issue.  The executive director and senior board members should be involved in planning and organization, as well as delivery.  Committee chairs and “outside” speakers, like the organization’s attorney and/or CPA, can also add to the depth of the educational effort.

            Break down the information presented into digestible chunks – organization history, policies and procedures, role of board members, risks, and mission and direction.  Information is easier to understand and retain if there is a logical flow from one area to the next.  Copies of important documents should be provided to each new board member, including bylaws, policies and procedures, sample reports, the most recent strategic plan and the mission/vision statement(s). Rules of order, information on pertinent association law and antitrust law, conflict of interest statements, and any other similar documents should be included as well.  It may make the process easier if these documents are arranged in bound form, in roughly the same order in which they will be reviewed in the orientation.

            Try to keep the orientation session interesting and fun, while not losing the importance of the information being presented.  The responsibilities of the board are important, as is legal compliance in all areas, and new board members need to understand the potential for legal and financial disaster if laws and rules are not followed.  At the same time, making the orientation too grim can be discouraging for a novice.  The object is to develop leaders, not depress them.  Stay on schedule, and allow plenty of time for questions, so that no one feels bad about asking.  Inspire confidence in new board members by making sure they have all the tools to provide a firm foundation from which to begin.