Board orientation is critical to ensure new board members focus on their true role, providing organizational direction and governance to your association.

The orientation process should begin even before a member becomes a board leader and attends their first formal board meeting.

Many associations pull future board leaders from the pool of members, some having board experience but many having no experience and no clear understanding of what role they play or how their decisions impact their organization.

A good source of future board members is volunteers working on committees. These members show an interest in getting involved, theybecome familiar with members who work on committees, and their committee performance is a great way to evaluate their board potential.

We have worked with many clients on their orientation process in order to streamline and shorten the amount of time it takes for a new board member to understand the association, its mission, and goals.

Making association information accessible to new and existing board members is critical. ”Board Binders” – where all association information can be referenced in one spot – are a great way to get new board members up to speed quickly. The goal is to ensure that when they have questions, the board Binder can help them locate the answers easily.

Things to include in the Board Binder:

•    Annual schedule of board meetings/events
•    Contact information for fellow board members and senior staff
•    Board/Executive Director/ Association Management Company (AMC) relationship & contract
•    Board policy statements
•    Board and committee structure
•    Association bylaws
•    Historical timelines for the association
•    Documents specific to the association (e.g. scope of practice, code of ethics, position statements, etc.)
•    Forms such as expense reports, etc.

Recently we’ve begun to distribute board Binders in a PDF format, with an index, so board members can access it electronically on their mobile devices and computers. This format reduces cost and indexing makes a board Binder more user friendly and one less thing for board members to carry with them

Once the board Binder is in the hands of a new volunteer leader, the next step is to provide a formal orientation to new members of the board. This can be done in a number of settings and will depend on the type of association you are involved with (national or regional). The orientation should be led by the board chair, who leads the organizational direction of the association, the executive director, and other staff depending on the complexity of the association and the programs and services they provide.

One of our clients has developed a four-phase approach to orienting prospective and future board members:

•    Phase 1 is the “elevator speech” where current board members have basic information at their fingertips allowing them to engage in conversation with prospective board candidates.

•    Phase 2 begins once a prospective candidate has put their name forward for a board position and more information is made available to help them understand the roles and responsibilities of the board and their impact on the association.
After election at the Annual General Meeting (or in advance of them running uncontested) they are provided with their Board Binder and encouraged to read the material.

•    Phase 3 takes place online where the new board members attend a webinar hosted by the board chair & the executive director going through a PowerPoint presentation about the association sector, the organization, the board and the roles and responsibilities of board members in the context of their association activities.

•    Phase 4 is the first in-person meeting of the board time is dedicated in the agenda for board orientation for the entire board, which will allow the sharing of knowledge from existing and new board members.

When members agree to become volunteer leaders, you can’t assume they know what they have signed up for. Board orientation, if done well can limit the amount of time a new board member takes to understand what their role is, how they interact, and contribute to the mission and goals of the association.