Non Profit Board Orientation Plan

Your job as board chair is to build an effective Board of Directors whose activities & involvement positively impact the outcomes of your organization’s mission, vision, values and strategic goals. The success of nonprofit organizations, especially small non-profits often depend on the quality and contributions of these individual board members. It is imperative these volunteer board members are engaged, feel appreciated and are well informed about their role and how they can impact your organization. It begins with recruiting the right board members and then providing them with the right information to begin contributing to your organization immediately.

The goal of your Board Orientation should be two-fold,  first and foremost to demonstrate to your new board member they have joined a professional organization, you value their expertise and appreciate the time they will devote to your organization.  Secondly, prepare them to be part of the decision making process and contribute immediately by being well informed about their role, how your organization operates, and who’s who within your organization.

Successfully on-boarding new board members will provide them with:

  • Vital information about their role and what’s expected of them
  • Information as to how the organization operates and its hierarchy
  • Who’s Who and their respective roles
  • Have the ability to share a few of the organizations key accomplishments and the organization’s mission, vision and values with their network of friends.
  • Understand the strategic goals and where the organization is in relationship to the achievement of those goals.
  • Be ready to contribute at their first board meeting
  • Be proud to have joined a well run and professional organization
  • Feel their time is being valued and appreciated

There are two important elements of the orientation process, the board orientation book and the board orientation session. The board orientation book is specifically for new board members and it is for them to take home, read, review, and write questions in the margins. It contains historic and current information so that new members have the relevant information enabling them to participate in the decision making process and have an immediate impact on your organization. It should be handed out several weeks prior to the orientation session. The orientation session is about providing new members an opportunity to ask questions, see first hand what was discussed in the orientation book, and hear from the people responsible for executing the strategic plan and mission of the organization.

An effective board orientation book includes:

  • Fact Sheet
    • History of the organization, when it was founded, why it was founded, significant achievements and significant challenges of the organization. Any press clipping featuring the organization are helpful.
    • Programs
    • Populations that are served
    • How the organization is financed
    • (Most of this should be on your website so providing this information should be easy)
  • Legal Documents
    • Explanation of legal and fiduciary responsibilities
    • By-Laws
    • Articles of Incorporation
    • Insurance Policy Information
  • General Board Information
    • The type of Board you are and definition
      • Governing and Operating Board-?
      • Governing and Managing Board-?
      • Governing and Fundraising Board-?
    • Board member job description and responsibilities
    • Conflict of Interest Policy
    • Board Attendance Policy
    • Individual Board Commitment Agreement
    • Board Role(s)
      • Actively participate in Fundraising
      • Having an annual board appeal, 100% participation
      • Providing donor referrals
      • A minimum time commitment
      • Participation on one or more committees
      • Clear understanding of the Board’s Role and the Staffs Role
      • Participation and attendance at the Board/Leadership Team Annual Retreat
    • Board of Directors list
      • Current contact information including profession.
      • Term(s)
    • Committee List
      • Description of each committee and its mission
      • Committee member list
        • Board members
        • Volunteer committee members
  • Calendar of Events including:
    • Board meetings
    • Events
    • Annual retreat
    • Other important organization dates
  • Organizational Planning
    • Mission Statement
    • Vision Statement
    • Value Statement
    • Strategic Plan
    • Operating Plan
      • Organizational Chart
      • Key Staff Members and their job descriptions
      • Description of each program and who it impacts
  • Financial Statements
    • Annual Budget
    • Current P&L
    • Balance Sheet
    • Description of Accounts
  • Other Information
    • Executive Director reports from the last six months
    • Minutes from the last three board meetings
    • Current marketing materials
    • Ongoing fundraising or capital campaigns
    • Upcoming fundraising events

The Board Orientation Session should be run by the board chair however all board members and key staff members should be present for this session and should be encouraged to respond to questions or add additional perspective to questions that may be asked. During these orientation sessions new members will hear first hand much of the information that was presented in the board orientation book and have the opportunity to meet the people responsible for each area of the organization. This is the time for them to ask questions about their role, what is expected of them, and how they can best contribute to the organization. While these sessions will introduce new board members to key personnel, familiarize them with the facilities, and educate them as to the organization’s mission, programs and populations it serves, make sure these sessions are interactive allowing new members time to interact with programs, staff and facilities.

A thorough orientation session should include:

  • Review of Orientation Book, (Board Chair)
  • Q&A on contents, (Board Chair)
  • Review of mission, vision and value statements, (Executive Director)
  • Fundraising, (Fundraising Chair)
  • Introduction to Staff, (Executive Director)
  • Facilities, (Executive Director and/or staff)
  • Programs, (Staff)
  • Overview of Strategic Goals and current initiatives to impact those goals, (Board Chair)
  • Calendar, (Board Chair)

During these sessions be sure to listen to the board members questions, comments and responses. You may identify areas they can make a significant contribution you were not expecting or find areas that could use yours or another members follow-up for additional education or clarity.

As you can see there is no magic or rocket science in a professional orientation program whether it’s for new board members or staff.  You will get back what you put into the program. If you focus on the big picture and getting new people up to speed quickly they will contribute from day 1. If the focus of your orientation program is about filling out a checklist then you will be frustrated and it will take longer for the individual to contribute.

The mistake many non-profit organizations make is not making board orientation a priority, or believing board orientation is providing minimal information, By-Laws, Articles of Incorporation and perhaps a recent financial statement in a poorly organized binder. Your board members have full time careers and in many cases very important and successful careers. Your board orientation should be as professional as any of your board members may be offering in their own companies. Without a comprehensive board book and orientation it may take new board members many months to get up to speed  delaying their ability to provide meaningful insight and contribution to your organization. If a new board members term is one or two years  10-20% of their board term has been wasted.

You and your organization can’t afford to waste that time. Do this right the first time and you will be rewarded over and over again. If you would like assistance with putting a quality board orientation program together please give us a call. We’d be glad to help. Beartooth Business Consulting. 406-690-5988, mike@beartoothbiz.com

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