Imagine this: you’ve been a passionate advocate and donor for a nonprofit’s cause for many years. When the organization reaches out with an invitation to join its board, you’re ecstatic about the opportunity and eagerly accept.
However, when you show up to your first board meeting, you quickly realize that your role as a nonprofit supporter has not adequately familiarized you with the ins and outs of the organization. Suddenly, your excitement for this new opportunity turns to nervousness and frustration. You don’t feel prepared enough to contribute during the meeting and instead wonder how and when you’ll be brought up to speed about the board and the nonprofit’s general operations.
As a nonprofit board chair or president, it’s your job to avoid scenarios like these and ensure your board operates effectively. By holding a proper nonprofit board orientation, you create a smooth transition for new board members and simplify board management.
In this guide, we’ll cover the following nonprofit board orientation topics:
- What is nonprofit board orientation?
- Who should participate in nonprofit board orientation?
- Why is holding a nonprofit board orientation important?
- How to Prepare for Your Nonprofit Board Orientation
Throughout the article, we’ll answer all of your nonprofit board orientation questions and offer tips to ensure it’s a positive experience for all parties involved, including new board members, existing board members, and board leadership.
What is nonprofit board orientation?
Nonprofit board orientation is the process of informing new board members about your board’s structure and policies, as well as your organization’s mission and overarching goals.
While nonprofit board orientations are typically in-person, single-session meetings, nonprofits have adapted their board orientation formats in recent years. You may choose to host your orientation in multiple in-person sessions or through live virtual, asynchronous virtual, or hybrid sessions.
No matter which format you implement, your nonprofit board orientation should review the following information:
- Your nonprofit’s mission, history, and values
- Your nonprofit’s strategic goals
- Your nonprofit’s budget
- Your board’s structure
- Your board’s bylaws and key policies
- The roles and responsibilities of board members
- The frequency and format of board meetings
At the end of orientation, new board members should feel prepared to attend their first meeting, equipped with the knowledge they need to succeed in their new role. Even if your orientation materials are extremely thorough, be sure to leave time for questions to clear up any confusion and ensure new board members fully understand their responsibilities.
Who should participate in a nonprofit board orientation?
New board members are the main audience of your nonprofit board orientation. However, you should incorporate other team members into your orientation to provide a holistic experience for new members.
Here are the main groups that should participate in your orientation, as well as their roles:
- New board members. New board members should attend your nonprofit board orientation ready and eager to learn about your organization. They should review all relevant materials, take notes, and ask any questions they may have about your organization or board.
- Current board members. Your orientation is a great chance for new and current board members to get to know each other. Current board members may also help lead presentations during orientation and act as mentors for the new members. Additionally, they may benefit from going through the orientation process again to reinforce their background knowledge of your nonprofit.
- Board chair or president. The board chair or president should attend to welcome new board members and manage the orientation experience. They may lead sessions and provide information about board members’ roles and responsibilities.
- Executive director or CEO. Since the executive director or CEO is the most knowledgeable about your nonprofit’s mission, history, and goals, they should present this information to the new board members. They may also help organize the logistics of your nonprofit board orientation.
If your nonprofit is interested in hiring a third party to lead your board orientation, you may also have facilitators lead certain sessions. External facilitators specialize in encouraging participation and fostering valuable discussions. They also bring a neutral perspective to your nonprofit board orientation.
Why is holding a nonprofit board orientation important?
On the surface, it may seem that a nonprofit board orientation’s only purpose is to acquaint new board members with your organization and board. While that is one benefit of holding an orientation, there are several other advantages your organization will receive.
Holding a nonprofit board orientation is important for any charitable organization welcoming new board members because it:
- Introduces new board members to your organization’s goals. Let’s say your organization has traditionally given new board members a welcome packet instead of a full orientation. While this packet likely covers a lot of the information board members need to succeed, it may not get to the heart of why board members’ roles are so important and what they’re striving to help the organization achieve. With a nonprofit board orientation, you can take the time to cover your nonprofit’s strategic plan and goals so board members have more context for their decisions.
- Clarifies expectations for each board member. A welcome packet alone may lay out the responsibilities of each board member. However, when you interact with new board members in an orientation setting, you can more clearly set your expectations for them and answer any lingering questions.
- Increases accountability. With a clear understanding of their responsibilities, new board members will be more likely to take accountability for their actions and fulfill their commitment to your organization.
- Encourages team building. During in-person nonprofit board orientations or synchronous virtual sessions, new board members can get to know existing board members and organizational leadership. As a result, they can start to build working relationships that will enhance their collaboration and teamwork down the line.
- Leads to more efficient decision-making. When each new board member enters their first board meeting with a thorough understanding of your nonprofit, they can make well-informed judgments, speeding up the decision-making process.
- Improves board effectiveness. Overall, nonprofit board orientations make boards run more smoothly. New board members who are well-prepared through orientation are more willing to engage in board discussions, make strategic decisions, and act in the best interest of your organization.
While holding a nonprofit board orientation takes up more team member time and resources than a welcome packet, it’s well worth the investment to have fully informed board members who are ready to take on important decisions on your organization’s behalf.
How to Prepare for Your Nonprofit Board Orientation
Like any type of meeting, nonprofit board orientations require extensive preparation to ensure they’re effective. Your goal should be to develop an engaging and informative experience for new members that begins the moment they accept your invitation to join the board.
To prepare both new members and facilitators for your orientation, treat the following as your board orientation checklist:
1. Announce your new board members.
Kick-off orientation preparation by announcing your new board members to your organization. That way, staff and existing board members can familiarize themselves with the new individuals. Additionally, creating an official announcement will help new board members feel valued by your organization and start your relationships with them on the right foot.
While you may first send an internal announcement via email, inform the public about your new board members through social media and your website to keep external stakeholders in the loop.
2. Host a welcome event for new board members.
Shortly after you officially announce the arrival of your new board members, host an event to welcome them to the team. This meet-up will demonstrate your appreciation for your new board members’ commitment to your nonprofit.
A welcome event is also a chance for new board members to mingle with each other and current board members, allowing them to start forming working relationships that will strengthen your board.
3. Add new board members to necessary communications.
Make sure new board members start receiving necessary organizational communications by adding them to your email lists. For instance, you may have a general email list for your entire nonprofit, as well as a board-specific email list that informs members of upcoming meeting dates and offers previews of each meeting’s agenda.
4. Schedule a tour of your facility.
Becoming comfortable with your facility will help new board members determine the logistics of where to meet and how best to get there before their first meeting. While you should introduce them to the boardroom, show them other parts of your facility as well to help them get a better sense of your organization’s activities and what different staff members and volunteers do each day.
5. Create a new member welcome packet.
As mentioned before, a new member welcome packet should not be the end-all-be-all of your nonprofit board orientation. However, it can serve as a jumping-off point to help summarize key information for new board members.
If possible, distribute your new member welcome packets before your first orientation session. That way, new board members can review the contents ahead of time and note any questions they’d like to ask during orientation.
6. Delegate orientation responsibilities to different team members.
To ensure your board chair or president isn’t doing all the heavy lifting, distribute the responsibilities of leading your nonprofit board orientation to different team members. You may have current board members and senior staff members volunteer to lead certain sessions or delegate them based on each team member’s area of expertise.
7. Pair up new and current board members.
New board members may be hesitant to speak up in their initial board meetings. To help new board members acclimate to the board, pair them with current board members who can serve as mentors.
These board member mentors can meet with their new member mentees one-on-one to discuss any concerns and answer any questions. New board members may feel more comfortable going to a singular point person for advice than voicing their doubts in front of the entire board. As a result, they’ll get the information they need to feel confident in their abilities and become effective board members.
While it can be stressful to switch up the composition of your board and incorporate new members, holding an effective nonprofit board orientation helps to create a smooth transition for everyone involved. With a dedicated process for acclimating new members, you can quickly familiarize new board members with your organization, helping them step into their new roles and build relationships with other board members. Consequently, you’ll have a more well-informed, effective board governing your organization.
If you’re looking for more tips to help your nonprofit board run efficiently and effectively, check out the resources below:
- Get Your Team Motivated! 8 Employee Engagement Strategies. Once you’ve assembled your board, you’ll want to make sure they’re fully engaged and ready to make important decisions on your organization’s behalf. Find out how you can keep your board members motivated with the help of this guide.
- The Ultimate Nonprofit Board Report Template and Tips. A comprehensive nonprofit board report is the key to a successful board meeting. Use the template and tips in this article to ensure yours includes all relevant information.
- Board Member Appreciation: A Complete Guide for Nonprofits. When you thank your board members for their hard work, they’ll feel valued by your organization and continue putting their best foot forward. Check out these tips for how to properly show appreciation to your board.