The Three I’s of Board Orientation
Sal had always been a dedicated donor and volunteer of his local community center, and he felt honored when asked to join the board. About a month after being appointed to the board, he came to the Saturday board orientation with a lot of enthusiasm for the center.
Over the next four hours, the board chair and executive director oriented Sal and the other new board members. Reading from power point presentations not changed in several years, they flooded new board members with detailed information:
- in-depth history lesson
- board policies and procedures
- detailed financial review
- program descriptions and data
- lots of documents to complete
After the first 75 minutes, Sal was no longer able to retain the information presented, and he began to feel more lethargic than enthusiastic in the final hours. By the end of the orientation, he felt like a glass of water that someone tried to fill with a fire hose.
The board orientation that Sal endured at the community center is often called a “fire hose orientation.” The fire hose orientation provides too much information in only one session and does not use experiential learning activities. Essentially, the new board member is seated in a room and subjected to a torrent of information. Even on the rare occasions that this orientation effectively informs new board members, it almost always fails to initiate and inspire them.
To ensure your new recruits become high-performing board members, every board orientation should Inform, Initiate, and Inspire. Together, they form the “Three I’s of Board Orientation.”
Board orientation activities must provide the information necessary for board members to do their volunteer job. This includes understanding the governing documents, programs, financials, organizational history, and board operations. The vast majority of board orientations inform board members, though splitting these topics into manageable 60 – 90 minute sessions would be helpful for retention.
While a few frat boys have given initiation a bad name, we should embrace the initiation aspects of orientation. During a board member’s first few months, they should receive support in doing the activities required of all board members. This may include making their first donation, liking the agency’s social media pages, completing required documents, representing the organization at an event, attending their first committee meeting, etc. As part of initiation, the organization can provide a list of all activities necessary to complete orientation, provide an experienced board member as a mentor and celebrate completion of the orientation process.
By the end of the orientation period, new board members should be even more enthusiastic about the organization and its mission. For this reason, orientation activities should inspire new board members to excel as governors, ambassadors, and cheerleaders. Activities that help inspire new board members include meeting former clients, shadowing program staff, touring the facility during operating hours, and leading a project for a volunteer group. While doing every one of these activities would be too much for a single board member, you can offer a variety of inspirational experiences for new board members can select from as part of their orientation.
The bigger picture
By designing an orientation process that Initiates, Informs, and Inspires board members, your organization will benefit from a more engaged, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic board. Of course, a successful board orientation also requires a robust and careful recruitment process, as well as a system for ongoing board member evaluation.