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Blog > Set your Board up for Success: Board Orientation

Set your Board up for Success: Board Orientation

posted on Sep 25, 2018

by Maria Lahiffe

You have a robust board renewal policy, which means you now have new blood on your board. Congratulations! Now you need to give these new directors the knowledge and skills to lead effectively.

What is Board Orientation?

Board Orientation is a process of helping new board members understand the particular context of your organization and its board. Here are some things new directors should know as a result of orientation: [1]

  • Understand organizational expectations regarding board responsibilities and time commitment. Time commitment includes
    • Board meetings
    • Committee meetings
    • Work in between meetings
  • Know the current goals, opportunities, and challenges which are most important to the organization.
  • Know who are the organization’s main stakeholders, including members, funders, clients, partners, and staff.
  • Understand how their own professional and personal background can contribute to the work of the board, as well as those backgrounds of the rest of the governance team
  • Know how board meetings are run, including how decisions are made and what policies, procedures, and practices exist

Orientation should take at least three forms:

  1. Board manual
  2. Orientation session
  3. Ongoing mentoring of new board members

Board Manual

A lot of the information listed above can be provided in written form for later reference. This can be on paper or online. Here is a list of basic information which should be included in a board director’s manual: [2] [3]

  • Explanation of the organization’s vision, mission, history, and values
  • Articles of incorporation and bylaws
  • Statement of director roles and responsibilities
  • Product, program, and services information summary
  • Most recent annual report
  • Most recent budget
  • Current financial reports
  • Board minutes from the previous year
  • Strategic plan
  • Policies governing board work, for example:
    • Conflict of interest
    • Whistleblower
    • Media relations
    • Board expenses
    • Relationship between board and Executive Director
  • List of committees and roster of members of each committee
  • Organizational chart
  • Executive Director role and responsibilities
  • Director list and contact information
  • Expense reimbursement forms
  • Schedule of key events and board meeting dates

Orientation Session

Decide how you want to organize the orientation. It may be best to break it up into small sessions which happen before regular board meetings. Other organizations invite new board members to a special session just for new members. Still others incorporate orientation to an annual full-board retreat and strategic planning session.

Make sure you follow best practices in adult education, such as developing measurable learning objectives and assessing learning. Typically allow at least 90 minutes for the orientation.

Some other good things to include in an orientation session include: [3]

  • Informal meet & greet with other board members
  • Spell out expectations regarding fundraising
  • Tour of facilities, including meeting one or two clients if possible
  • Question and answer session

Ongoing mentoring

The initial orientation is an important introduction to the organization and its workings. However, to set up your board members for optimal contribution, make sure you support them throughout their first year or two with the organization. One way to accomplish this is to assign each new board member with a more experienced “board buddy” to whom they can turn for questions and advice.

Get support

Governance is a complex skill which takes time to learn and a lifetime to master. Volunteer Ottawa offers workshops, both for individuals and also custom sessions for boards, to help leaders develop the skills they need to lead their organizations effectively. Click here for more information, and to register. Subscribe to our Event RSS Feed to be among the first to know when a new workshop is added to the schedule.

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Related blog posts:

[1] E. G. Macdonald, "A Guide to Board Orientation," [Online]. Available: [Accessed 23 August 2018]. [2] J. B. Pealow and S. L. Humphrey, Best Practices and Tools for Not-for-Profit Boards, Canada: Canadian Society of Association Executives, 2013. [3] "Board Orientation," National Council of Nonprofits, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 23 August 2018].
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