Boards assure their own continuity through recruitment and on-boarding of new board members. Some people come to Boards with previous experience and understanding of how Boards function. Others come with no prior experience and learn through observation of the process. A key responsibility for Boards is to identify ways to build the skill sets of members to assure excellence in board functioning. Many Boards make a commitment to provide new members with orientation, mentorship and training.
In order to govern effectively, new board members require a deep understanding of the organization’s history, programs, philosophy, and policies. Board orientation – and provision of a board handbook – is one step toward building a stronger board. Orientation is a way for all Board members – new and veteran – to get to know one another, and to refresh the collective understanding about how the organization operates.
Elements of a board orientation can include the following topics (the bulleted list provides documents that should be shared in a Board handbook or electronic folder):
(1) Introduction to the history of the organization & statement of values.
Board members gain an understanding of important past programs and events.
- Brochures, newsletters
- Press articles
- Bios for current board members and key staff
(2) Review of the strategic direction of the organization.
Board members learn the organization’s mission, purpose, goals, policies, programs, services, strengths, and needs
- Current Strategic plan
- Any other statements that clarify strategic framework or theory of change
(3) Training in how to read organization’s financial statements.
Board members come to understand the budget and financial standing, and are prepared to critically review financial statements.
- Annual reports
- Last three Form 990s
- Organizational budget
- Financial statement
(4) Introduction to key staff members and review of the organizational structure.
Board members become familiarized with staff and committee structure, and review bylaws and other organizing documents.
- Bylaws, certificate of incorporation
- Determination letter from IRS, certificate of tax exemption from the state
- Organizational chart; list of staff positions
- Committee job descriptions
(5) Board Roles and Individual Board member responsibilities.
Board members receive clarification about their role, including expectations regarding time, skills, financial contributions, and connections.
- Board member letter of agreement
- Conflict of interest policy
- Board member job position description and expectations
- Recent board meeting minutes
- Summary of Directors’ and Officers’ insurance coverage
(6) Board Operations: committees, task forces, and organization policies.
Beyond individual roles, Board members learn of policies and procedures of the board and committees.
- Schedule of board & committee meetings
- Full board roster and committee roster
- Policies: review of the CEO compensation; travel reimbursement policy; whistleblower policy
Orientation is the first step to educating board members about their role and the issues that the nonprofit addresses. Most Board members will benefit from additional opportunities for training about governance functions. And most nonprofit organizations continuously engage Board members in strategic discussions for continuous improvement.
* This article was adapted from materials from BoardSource and the Nonprofit Board Resource Center.