Every volunteer leader wants to do a good job. Without a board training process, directors begin their journey at a disadvantage.
Directors need access to information. Some of it will be in written form, such as the governing documents. Some will be association lore, such as the guiding principles. And some will be practical advice, provided by the experienced leaders.
“Board engagement is key to any association’s success, and board onboarding and training should be a continuous process for the best outcomes,” said Eric Hontz, Senior Program Officer, Europe and Eurasia, Center for International Private Enterprise.
Develop a three-step approach to onboarding. The investment in a comprehensive, efficient process pays off in volunteer satisfaction, better governance and outcomes.
New directors face their first board meeting with trepidation. A few take the position, “I won’t say anything for six months until I learn the ropes.” Governance may seem foreign to them.
Schedule a face-to-face meeting. It will take a couple of hours. Invite the new director to visit the association office where they can see operations and meet the staff. Or suggest the executive director to visit the volunteer at their work setting.
In either location, it’s about becoming acquainted with each other. Have an outline of topics to discuss and encourage questions. The result should be an understanding of the organization and governance responsibilities.
Refresh and Blend
Plan the board’s annual orientation as a “refresh and blend” session. This is the opportunity to introduce the entire board, welcome new directors, and meet the staff; essentially blending all the participants for a better year.
The refresh aspect is an update on strategic plan, budgets and priorities. It is part introduction to governance and part understanding of the organization. Because volunteers are busy, an efficient session may take 1.5 to 3 hours. A leadership manual or board portal should be introduced at this meeting.
Evaluation the process for continuous improvement. The participants should assess progress, strengths and weaknesses.
Allocate time at the six-month mark to be sure directors are comfortable with their progress. They might suggest improvements to meeting frequency, room set-up or agenda style for instance. A few directors might ask for guidance in technical areas such as rules of order, finances, strategy or risk awareness.
The three-step process for onboarding facilitates a better understanding of governance and continuous improvement.