Monday, January 17, 2011

Why is Sound Board Member Orientation often Overlooked?

Why don’t we pay attention to the orientation of new board members?

My first guess is that we usually recruit trustees from within the ranks of friends and associates who already know each other. Or, because we seek out high level leaders for our boards, we assume that orientation would be an insult because they already know so much about serving on nonprofit boards. These are fundamental errors.

Every board is unique in its by-laws, policies, practices internal dynamics, and expectations for its members. Without an orientation session in which vital aspects of board service are discussed, even the most astute new member will need several board meeting to decipher how the board works, how the members relate to each other, and what role he or she should play.

I confess that it took me a long time to learn the lesson. Finally, however, when I became the chair of a board, I worked with the president to organize a special two-hour orientation session with new trustees before their first meeting. A packet of information went out to them, including the by-laws, policy manual, board directory, and minutes for the board meetings in the past two years.

When the president and I met with the new trustee, we highlighted the distinctions of our history, theology and mission as well as explaining how the board performed and interacted. A good portion of the time was given to questions from the new trustee. Meaningful discussion followed. Later, we added the idea of assigning one of the senior trustees as a mentor for the new member in order to assume some follow-up to the orientation sessions.

What a difference it made! The new trustee quickly became engaged in the meetings and offered insights from their own leadership experience. Of course, orientation is not a cure-all. Without a long-term plan for board development, it is only a quick fix with the need for continuing growth in commitment, understanding, and the sense of meaningful participation as a member of a Christ-centered ministry.

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