Tips for Onboarding New Board Members

A critical component of board governance is the process of selecting new board members. The process, which is holistic in nature, includes recruitment, nomination, and onboarding. Following our previous articles on recruitment and nominationtoday’s article focuses on onboarding.

Recruiting and nominating is only the beginning of your relationship with new board members. After voting to approve the nomination of new board members, the real work begins.

How new board members are onboarded and made to feel welcome is a critical aspect of good governance that often goes overlooked. It can make the difference between board members becoming engaged in the work of the board or becoming an unengaged seat at the table.

BoardSource has an array of materials to support onboarding. We’ll focus on a few key areas where we have seen a big impact.

1.    Board Orientation

A well-planned orientation process can make all the difference for a new board member. If your onboarding is simply handing over a binder of materials for a new member to review, then you are missing a tremendous opportunity.

Board orientation should be more than just one afternoon. Plan a calendar of activities such as:

  • Touring the organization’s facilities.
  • Meeting with the chief executive to review the strategic plan, major initiatives, finances, and fundraising efforts.
  • Meeting with the board chair to understand board culture and operations.
  • Meeting with senior staff members to discuss key programs and services, outcomes, and audiences served.
  • Attending an event or volunteering in a service area.

Orientation materials should include:

  • Mission, vision, and values statements.
  • Organizational history and the founding story.
  • Organizational chart and bios of key leaders.
  • Major awards or accomplishments.
  • Annual report, and/or recent newsletters, brochures, and program materials.
  • Board expectations and annual board commitment form.
  • Board calendar of meetings, board committee descriptions, and board job descriptions.
  • Board roster and board matrix.
  • Articles of incorporation and by-laws or code of regulations.
  • Most recent audit and Form 990.
  • Most recent strategic plan.
  • Conflict of interest statement/policy and other key policy documents.

2.    Board Mentoring

Asking long-serving board members to be a mentor to new board members is a powerful way to build connections and relationships. Peer to peer mentoring can be as formal or informal a process as needed and should include the mentors sitting next to each other in board meetings, having coffee or lunch meetings outside the board schedule, and being available for questions prior to and after board meetings. All of this creates a positive board culture and can advance DEI efforts that focus on inclusion and belonging.

3.    Board Culture

It’s helpful to understand the power dynamics at play in an organization and among board members. Factors that can negatively impact board culture include the following:

  • If there is a strong executive committee that meets regularly and makes decisions, the rest of the board can become disengaged.
  • If there are dominant voices on the board that drive conversations and decisions, then it can be difficult for new board members to speak up or add to the dialogue.
  • If there is tension between board members and the chief executive, then communications and operations can be impacted and create uncertainty.

Carefully assessing the culture, and then working to make sure new board members have a voice and a place at the table, will improve whatever dynamics exist.

We hope this series on recruitment, nomination, and onboarding helps you build board capacity and improve your board operations. Every nonprofit needs board members who are connected to the mission and to each other in order to achieve impact.

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