All new members must receive a thorough orientation to both the organization and to the board that extends the basic information already presented in the recruitment process.
Some of this orientation is informational and may be provided via fairly straightforward means (e.g., handbooks, articles, web resources) that the new member can peruse at his/her leisure. Other aspects of the recruitment process should include one-on-one contact with your board leadership and/or your dean/director, as well as additional opportunities to acquaint themselves with you and your programs.
Critical to the orientation process is early immersion in your organizational culture. Immediately assign new board members to active committees that use their interests and talents. Engaging new members in stimulating and useful work builds understanding and commitment and draws them deeper into organizational operations. It gives them a role in the larger process.
Consider assigning new members a mentor, or “board buddy,” for the first six months to one year. A mentor’s duties might include meeting periodically with the new board member and being available to answer questions about the organization and/or the board’s work.
Newer boards – Develop an orientation process, preferably face-to-face, and institutionalize that process into your operations. Consider flexible delivery options to make the process as easy as possible for the new member (e.g., meet individually at his/her office or home, schedule group or individual sessions immediately before or after a board meeting). Use print and electronic vehicles to augment the learning process and reinforce messages/expectations conveyed verbally.
Veteran boards – Assign board mentors to new members, with the expectation that the mentor will work with the recruit for at least six months. If logistics allow, consider adding the expectation that each board member will serve as a mentor at least once during his/her term. (Mentoring frequently strengthens the experienced member’s understanding of the board/organization and revitalizes that person’s commitment to your work.)
Some questions to guide discussion:
• What do new board members need to know to succeed?
• How do we orient new board members?
• What works well in that process?
• What could be improved?
• What would an effective board mentor program look like?