With many boards gearing up to elect new members for 2013, now is the perfect time for nonprofits to take a look at their board orientation process. We asked fellow nonprofit geek and accountability hero, Andrew Gilbert, to share his views and thoughts behind one of our vital governance Accountability Standards, Board Orientation and Assessment.
Joining a board of directors can be an exciting time for a new member. For most new members, it is their enthusiasm and passion for the mission that drives them to serve. Whether or not a new director has served on other boards, this enthusiasm will come face to face with the unique challenges of the organization that were previously unseen from the outside. This prospect can intimidate, disillusion, and ultimately overwhelm any new member that is not properly prepared.
If a board as a whole is expected to lead an organization, each individual member should be oriented quickly in order to help meet challenges and govern effectively.
One of the most effective tools to facilitate this orientation is a board manual. Both new and existing board members will have their own ideas concerning what is best for the organization. Often, these differences can result in conflict and unless handled effectively may begin to pull the organization in more than one direction. A comprehensive board manual will provide “common language” with shared values and expectations that the board can routinely reference in order to frame conversations and avoid unproductive conflicts. It will also be a great help when assessing the board’s capacity to govern.
Another effective strategy for orienting new members is to have one-on-one meetings between the board president (or a designated board member) and the new member during the initial months of board service. New members will have a chance to ask questions and gain insight that they would not get otherwise. This type of mentor relationship can encourage new members to quickly become engaged in their board during a time when they may be unsure of their new role.
For more on what elements should be included in board manuals refer to BoardSource.org. Another great resource is the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Leadership and Governance Overview.