Becoming a new board member? Why orientation is an important step

Contributed by Kathleen Townshend, Consultant with MRSB Consulting Services

If you are a new board member with an organization, congratulations! You are no doubt putting your time and unique skill set toward a cause that you feel passionate about. This can be an exciting and challenging time.

Regardless of your previous board experience, receiving an orientation is a crucial part of starting your new role. Board orientation will provide you with the necessary information to prepare for your role so you feel comfortable and can maximize your contribution to the organization to whichyou have decided to commit your time. The key objectives of your board orientation should be to become familiar with the history of the organization, understand the roles and responsibilities of board members, introduce committees and volunteer guidelines, review the board material and get to know fellow board members. It is recommended that board orientation include all members (new and existing) and that it review some key areas:


It is important to learn the background of the organization and to highlight its accomplishments, challenges and milestones over the years. The relevant information you glean from this first step will allow you to understand the organization, what it represents (mission and values) and what the organization wants to achieve (vision and goals). Every organization is unique, meaning this part of the process can be pretty interesting.


You and your fellow board members have the critical responsibility to guide the organization's strategic direction, develop policies, exercise financial stewardship, select and monitor the Executive Director's performance and promote the important work that the organization does within the community. It is important that all board members understand their own role, as well as the difference between the role of the board and that of staff. As a general rule for not-for-profit organizations, the board primarily governs and the staff primarily manages. An effective board does not become involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization (however tempting this may sometimes be!).


Committees and volunteers are the backbone of a not-for-profit organization. There are several committee types (standing, operating, or task force) that the organization might have in place. You should be introduced to the committees and their purposes so you can align your interests and skill set with the committee that speaks to your personal and professional goals.


The board manual is an important reference guide for all board members. A review of the board manual will allow you to ask questions that did not arise during other stages of the orientation. A board manual includes several elements such as board and staff contact lists, overview of programs and services, upcoming events, recent board minutes, bylaws, board roles and responsibilities (including Executive Director), committees, volunteer orientation, strategic plan, recent annual reports and financial statements.


Finally, the orientation session is usually the first opportunity for you to get to know fellow board members. An icebreaker (these can be especially fun) or some other activity is important to acquaint members of the group with one another.

MRSB Consulting Services facilitates board orientation workshops that include tools and checklists for your board and can be used on an ongoing basis. For more information please get in touch with a member of our Consulting Services team.