Identifying a new board member is only the first step in what you hope will be a mutually rewarding relationship. Whether orientation of your new board member is approached informally or formally, be sure to include the basics needed for new board members to become engaged in the work of the board right away, and to serve as a committed ambassador and advocate for your nonprofit’s mission for a long time to come.
Educate as You Onboard
Start the relationship off right by introducing new board members to the basic roles and responsibilities of service as a nonprofit board member, and also provide specific information about your nonprofit’s mission and activities.
Here is a sample outline of what might be covered in the orientation:
- Your nonprofit’s mission and history, and its statement of values
- Bios of current board members and key staff
- Board member agreement (Blue Avocado)
- Conflict of interest policy and questionnaire
- Recent financial reports and audited financials
- Bylaws and certificate of incorporation
- Determination letter from the IRS and certificate of tax exemption from the state
- Summary of Directors’ and Officers’ insurance coverage
- Sample board travel reimbursement policy
- Whistleblower policy
- Annual report or other document that lists the nonprofit’s donors/funders
- Board roster and list of committees, their charters, and who serves on them
- Calendar of meetings for the year ahead
- Help manage expectations of new board members by sharing a "position description" with them, tailored for your nonprofit. DO include any expectations about personal giving/fundraising efforts.
- A follow-up phone call from the board chair after new board members agree to serve, but before their first meeting, can set the stage for a productive relationship with the board chair.
- Have you considered asking a veteran board member to serve as a board buddy or mentor for a new board member?
- Name tags or screen names at meetings are helpful so that new board members can get to know their colleagues and connect names with faces.
- Some people join boards to share their professional expertise with the nonprofit. Others want to do something completely different from their normal professional life when they volunteer, so make sure to ask your new board members what they are most interested in before assigning new board members to committees.
- The orientation meeting itself can include a field trip to see the nonprofit’s mission in action via a tour of the nonprofit’s facilities. Or, consider sharing a video if an in-person visit isn't practical.
- Don't forget to include in the orientation background on any special issue(s) that pertain specifically to your nonprofit's mission, plus information on: governance policies (so that all board members are reminded about their legal and fiduciary duties); accountability practices (such as the need to disclose conflicts of interest); and the responsibility to review and approve the executive director's performance and compensation, among other key policies.
- Invite fellow board members, such as officers or committee chairs, to lead relevant portions of the orientation as a way for newbies to get to know their colleagues on the board as well as the roles they play individually.
- Inviting all board members to attend each board orientation gives those board members who missed their own orientation – or would like a refresher – to get caught up, and also reinforces a culture of continuous learning.
- Keep it short, approaching the orientation in “bites” instead of one huge “gulp” so that new board members are not overwhelmed with all the information.
- Make sure all board members knows who they can turn to with questions, and that there is no such thing as a “dumb” question! Encourage a culture of inquiry and candor.
Society expects much from our volunteer board members. In turn, we need to thoughtfully prepare and support them. Rarely do new members arrive on the board with years of experience in the nonprofit sector. Most often they will have only a passing familiarity with what a nonprofit is all about, but lots of passion for the mission of your organization. Consequently, finding ways to educate your board members on a regular basis about their important role, as well as about issues that impact the nonprofit’s operating environment, are high priority activities that promote ongoing board engagement.
More About Boards and Governance
A diverse board that is also sensitive to cultural differences is usually one that has a stronger capacity to attract and retain talented board members - as well as to be in touch with community needs. Read more about diversity on nonprofit boards.
Introduce important topics for the board to wrestle with using our Tip Sheet for Candid Conversations.
- Make sure meetings are well-planned and guided by the nonprofit's strategic directions. See our tips for effective meetings.
- A template for a great board orientation (Joan Garry)
- Board orientation checklist (BoardSource)
- Should board members have a “contract”? (Blue Avocado)
- We encourage all board members to recognize that advocacy is part of their role to serve as ambassadors in the community. Help them Stand for Your Mission.
Disclaimer: Information on this website is provided for informational purposes only and is neither intended to be nor should be construed as legal, accounting, tax, investment, or financial advice. Please consult a professional (attorney, accountant, tax advisor) for the latest and most accurate information. The National Council of Nonprofits makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or timeliness of the information contained herein.