So you have some new board members joining you this fall, which is exciting, but what’s the plan? How will you introduce them to the work of your organization, familiarize them with your case for support, engage them in committee work, and integrate them into your current board team? Sound like a big job? Let’s break it down into some easy to implement steps.
First, ensure new board members have access to important documents and schedules before the first board meeting of the year. These should include your by-laws, board manual, board meeting calendar, committee charges, gift acceptance policy, conflict of interest statement, mission statement, annual report, board role description, contract or commitment letter and any other organizational or program descriptions that will help them get up to speed.
Next, consider who they should meet. New board members should sit face to face with your organization’s executive director and development director at least once before the first board meeting. They should also meet with the chair of the committee on which they will sit, and it’s a good idea to introduce them to other board members with whom they might share committee membership.
Then, assign a mentor to the new board member. This step can make or break a positive board experience, and it’s often poorly executed. Ask senior or long-time board members if they would be willing to mentor a new board member. Provide them with a mentor role description so that they know exactly what is expected of them. I often look to pair those who have something in common, like a profession or outside interest. Mentoring includes sitting next to the mentee at board meetings, contacting them before or after the first few meetings to ask if they have questions, and some informal coffees or lunches to ensure the onboarding process is smooth.
Consider offering a new board member orientation. This can happen as part of the board retreat (but schedule the session for an hour or two before the rest of the board arrives) or independently, but it’s important to create a feeling of community, or “class” camaraderie amongst new board members, especially if there are more than one or two. You might consider asking committee chairs and/or department chairs to speak to new board members at the orientation. You also might ask your finance director to walk through the budget, your governance chair to highlight important aspects of the by-laws and/or board manual, your campaign chair or development professional to offer an orientation to fundraising and outline fund development expectations, and a program director to talk about the services your organization offers to the community. It’s also a good idea to offer a few team building exercises in order to promote a positive group dynamic and problem-solving opportunities.
Last, ensure new board members are properly introduced and oriented at board meetings. Ask them to take a few minutes at the first board meeting to talk about themselves. Don’t assume new board members can follow along in complicated discussions without some context for the issues. The mentor can help with this. Make sure new board members have been assigned to a standing committee and the committee chair has involved them in the work. Check in with board members at the 3, 6 and 12-month mark to ensure their experience is positive. Engaged volunteers work harder on behalf of the organization and are more generous contributors, so there are lots of reasons to do this right!
Need more guidance on what the new board member orientation should look like? Check out this week’s freebie. We’ve put together an orientation agenda for new board members, complete with tips and ideas for each topic area.