Board members have ultimate responsibility for a not-for-profit organization, yet some organizations do not offer a structured orientation process. Would-be donors are taking note. GuideStar, the agency that maintains the largest database of publicly available information on charities, asks organizations to self-report whether they have a formal orientation for new board members.
A board orientation is important to help new board members quickly assume their roles as partners in shared leadership. In addition, there are potential legal consequences for directors who fail to fulfill their governance responsibilities, and an orientation equips them with the knowledge needed to undertake their new duties.
To put your new directors on a path to success, begin the orientation during the recruitment process – that is, before the board member is officially appointed. The process is typically coordinated by an NFP’s leadership team and officers. Some organizations have a dedicated nominating committee that collaborates with the Board Chair and Executive Director/CEO to research and vet prospective board members and assist in recruitment and orientation.
During recruitment, you can meet with and share information with your prospective board member, provide an overview of your mission and business strategy, and help them understand your expectations in terms of time commitment and participation in meetings and activities. Think of this as a two-way interview where you find out whether the individual has the expertise and leadership skills needed by your organization. This is a good time to discuss fundraising goals and expectations concerning board member involvement. Meeting one-on-one will help you gauge their level of interest and passion for your organization’s mission, which helps make sure there are no misunderstandings later on.
Once an individual is officially appointed to the board, they should then receive the information and tools they need to successfully oversee and advise the organization, such as:
Form 990 returns
Don’t just share the policies and documents, take an opportunity to go through them and answer any questions they have. Introduce them to your organization’s leadership team and fellow board members to build a strong partnership.
Finally, think of orientation as an ongoing process. Keep new and established members current on issues affecting your organization and peer organizations working in your particular sector. You can incorporate a short training session into your board meeting agenda or hold a special meeting for this purpose.
A Guide to Board Orientation (PDF)
Board Responsibilities: An Overview (PDF)
Not-for-Profit Board Member Orientation Checklist (Excel)
Strategies for maintaining an effective board
Top 10 Nonprofit Board Oversight Issues for Organizations of All Sizes