Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’ve likely either been elected to your first Board of Directors or are in the process of welcoming new board m
embers to your organization. However, if you’re somewhere in between, keep reading and take notes for later!
In an ideal world, an orientation for new board members should be structured to address the formal expectations of board members (e.g., legal responsibilities, meeting expectations, etc.), while also remaining flexible enough to meet the specific needs of your organization and those being onboarded. While there are several ways an organization can achieve these results, we’ve compiled a list of Ten Essential Orientation Tasks to help create an effective orientation that cultivates your best board of directors yet:
1. Provide copies or access to important documents and information
Create and distribute a board handbook! Within that handbook, include documents such as: certificate of incorporation, articles of incorporation, bylaws, strategic plan, organizational chart, program highlights, a calendar of upcoming events, meeting minutes, and other important documents.
2. Review the contents and structure of your organization’s board handbook
In addition to the items listed above, the handbook should include: (1) describe the board’s main responsibilities, (2) explain the laws applicable to the nonprofit, (3) contain the nonprofit’s essential governing documents, (4) define common terminology and acronyms, and (5) include tools, training materials, and educational resources (or reference/link to them). A thorough handbook should help the directors learn more about their roles, their risks and responsibilities, issues the nonprofit manages, and the community the organization serves.
3. Describe and discuss the nonprofit’s vision and mission
In addition to ensuring that board members are familiar with the vision and mission, have board members discuss their personal connection and passion for furthering the organization’s purpose. This is a great way to (1) engage board members and (2) reinforce the importance of board members sharing their thoughts and opinions.
4. Explain key board responsibilities
Everyone should come away from board orientation with a clear understanding of their responsibilities. This may include but is not limited to: formulating strategic plans and organizational policies, ensuring compliance with state and federal laws (see below), monitoring the organization’s financial well-being, addressing potential conflicts of interest, and protecting the assets of the nonprofit.
5. Review internal expectations and the conflicts of interest policy
In addition to understanding their responsibilities, board members should embrace the organization’s expectations. This may include but is not limited to: number of regularly scheduled board meetings per year, attendance requirements, absence policy, committee participation requirements, fundraising expectations, and attendance at special events.
6. Educate board members on applicable state and federal laws
Along the same vein, board members must understand state and federal laws applicable to nonprofits. While it is difficult to provide an in-depth education, it is important for board members to be aware of a few core areas with which they must comply. This includes: (1) their fiduciary duties of care, loyalty, and obedience, (2) state specific charitable fundraising requirements, and (3) IRS requirements to maintain tax-exempt status.
7. Summarize financial oversight duties of the board
Part of the duty of care involves adequate financial oversight. This may include but is not limited to: oversight of annual audits, internal controls, investment procedures, compensation policies, tax filings, and major financial decisions for the nonprofit. This is also a good time to provide the board with up-to-date financial information on the organization’s cash flow, budget, findings of any recent errors or fraud (and how they are being remedied), spending policies, and compliance with tax and regulatory filings.
8. Introduce the organization’s programs
Programs take many forms and should be introduced accordingly. This may require a tour of program facilities, explanation of the connection between the program and the organization’s mission, an assessment of each program’s effectiveness, and introduction to the program directors other executive staff.
9. Assign mentors to new directors
Mentors can help integrate new members to the board more fluidly by identifying ways in which new directors can apply their skillsets or experiences, aiding new directors in setting attainable goals and objectives for their board service, or even serving as a friendly connection to bridge the gap between staff and directors.
10. Leave time for self-evaluation and feedback
Leave space for self-evaluation and feedback. Even the most experienced board members will likely have “information overload” following orientation. Leaving time for reflection, questions, and feedback will help to tie up loose ends and leave each attendee feeling informed and motivated to passionately take on their role as a director.
Whether you’re starting from scratch or looking to revise your current board orientation plans, these ten tasks will help you hit the ground running and prepare all board members to be fully informed and engaged throughout their term. Good luck!