There is a saying among executives who are accountable to a board of directors: If you have a new board member, you have a new board. A well organized board member orientation process can go a long way to ensuring a smooth leadership transition and continuity of governance.
Establishing a Relationship
Some executives opt to first have informal meetings with new board members. These one-on-one interactions often occur away from association headquarters, perhaps at the board member’s place of employment or a dining establishment. These encounters affords both parties the opportunity to get to know one another away from the formality of the board table and official responsibilities. Conversation topics may include general wishes for the association, education and employment backgrounds, families, hobbies, and special interests.
An effective new board member orientation provides board members with clarity regarding legal obligations and general responsibilities of the board, expectations of individual board members, and a solid overview of the association. The orientation session itself may be conducted with board members individually or cooperatively, depending on the traditional practices of the association and the specific circumstances surrounding the transition. Orientation activities include:
- A tour of the facility
- The introduction of officers and key staff members accompanied by an organizational chart
- Presentations on the history and current state of the association
- A review of the association’s finances and strategic plan
- Consideration of the association’s articles of incorporation, bylaws, board policies, governance practices, board calendar, and committee structure
- An explanation of practices related to liability, anti-trust, conflicts of interest, whistleblower procedures, CEO performance evaluation, and board-staff communications
- A discussion of informal board practices related to socializing, attire, and guest attendance at board gatherings
Knowledge is Power
It’s customary to provide board members with a printed or digital resource kit or manual. These manuals/kits often include:
- Articles of Incorporation
- IRS letter of determination granting 501(c) status
- Relevant licenses, permits, and insurance policies
- Strategic Plan
- Board Policies
- Financials and budget
- Organizational Chart
- Job Descriptions of Board Officers and Members
- Committees and Charters
- List of Board Members (their organizations, contact information, etc.)
- Board Calendar
- Recent member surveys and program performance data
As with other aspects of association management, a commitment to continuous improvement helps to ensure better board orientations. Ask new board members for feedback on the orientation immediately following the orientation and again in three months. Make changes while the feedback is fresh as to be well prepared for the next transition.
Stephen Covey advised that we begin with the end in mind. How we begin our relationships and work with new board members has a significant impact on the quality and impact of association governance for many years. Astrategic, early investment of time and energy can pay big dividends over time.