All Onboard! The importance of orienting your board

Most of us are, or have been, on a board or steering committee, joined a group, or worked with others on a club or community project.  We m ay have had a formal or informal orientation or had little introduction to the group at all. Our first interaction with a board, committee or group shapes our relationship with, and expectations of, the group. If your board is welcoming new people to serve, remember that orienting and educating new members, or reorienting experienced members, is key to effective board development.

Here are some reasons to conduct board orientation, and ideas of when to do it, from the Community Toolbox , a resource from the University of Kansas, whose mission is ‘promoting community health and development by connecting people, ideas and resources’.

Why is it important to welcome and train new Board members?

A proper welcome and training will help new members…

  • Take on their roles in the organization both quickly and comfortably.
  • Feel more connected to one another.
  • Feel more connected to the organization.
  • Better understand their role on the Board — why they were asked to join, and what is expected of them as members.
  • Operate from the same “script” — that is, to understand the vision, mission, and their roles in the organization in the same way.
  • Feel more motivated to do a better job.

When should you welcome and train new Board members?

It depends on your organization, how often you meet, and how often new members join the Board. Many Boards find that holding an official orientation session once a year, either before a regular meeting or during the organization’s annual retreat, makes most sense. If your group has a certain time of year in which it recruits new members, it makes sense to hold this meeting immediately after new members have been recruited.

Recruitment can also take place both more casually. A more casual approach makes most sense when:

  • The organization is local and/or very small
  • The new Board member already knows most of the existing Board members
  • The new member is already very familiar with the organization’s work

For that type of Board member, there’s almost never a bad time to welcome them to the Board family — this informal orientation can occur as needed with very little fanfare.

For more information about Boards in general, check out The National Center for Nonprofit Boards, or The Blue Avocado at “practical, provocative and fun food-for-thought for non-profits.”

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