Boards spend an unbelievable amount of time, energy and financial resources trying to find the right nominees/candidates that can add value and enhance governance oversight, but for many boards, the momentum ends once the vacancy is filled or when the infamous “orientation binder” is sent to a newly elected board member. In practical terms, this is like an Olympic marathon runner training for years and then deciding to walk their race on the day of their Olympic event – ultimately, they are not utilizing or benefiting from the hard work they put in upfront.
By not following up with a strong orientation program, boards are not preparing their new members to become true board contributors from day one, which means that they will take roughly their first year to catch up and self-learn as much as they can. Alternatively, boards can be proactive and do their best to prepare new board members upfront and help ensure they hit the ground running and are contributing on day one.
As a bare minimum, your board should have an updated orientation package ready for new members the day they are elected. Ideally, this should be kept in an electronic format, updated regularly, and perpetually available to all members. Overall, this should include:
- A short historical overview of the organization including its mission, vision and values;
- A year-to-date list of organizational accomplishments;
- Staff organizational chart;
- Charter/articles of incorporation;
- Bylaws and committee mandates;
- Most recent financial statements (quarterly and audited annual);
- Most recent strategic plan and approved budget;
- Approved minutes from the last 3 to 6 meetings;
- Current board member bios and photos;
- A list of links to all overarching legislation;
- All applicable governance policies including the board’s code of conduct;
- A copy of the director’s & officers liability insurance policy;
- Yearly calendar of all upcoming board meetings, committee meetings and important events.
As well, a general orientation session should be offered as soon as possible to help review the high-level elements of the aforementioned documents and to review the board and management’s roles and responsibilities. Understandably, it is the chair and committee chairs that attend and present at this session, but it is also a best practice to make these sessions open to all board members that can attend because it will not only provide a great opportunity for the new members to get to know the board, but also provide a discrete refresher for any board members who may feel that they could benefit but are afraid to ask. Also, in attendance should be key executive staff members who can walk participants through their roles and specific area of responsibility. As an alternative, if a general session is impossible to establish, the second-best option is to set up a day or two of individual meetings with the board chair, each of the committee chairs, and key executives.
Ideally, all of this needs to happen well in advance of the new members’ first board meeting because, by doing so, there will be a higher probability of them participating and/or contributing at an impactful level right from the very beginning. They know that there was a lot of thought put into their election onto your board and that comes with an expectation that they are bringing value to your board. If you don’t help them build momentum from the very beginning, you diminish their potential and full capacity that your board has in effectively overseeing your organization.