Good Governance: The dual responsibility for board orientation

Organizations and new directors both have important work to do.

I recently joined two not-for-profit boards and appreciate how important it is to ensure that I understand my role and am prepared for what lies ahead. But it’s also important that the organizations on whose boards I serve help prepare me for my board role. All of this points to the key role of board member orientation.

The new director process

My first step before joining the boards was to research the organizations I wanted to be involved with. I looked at whether the vision, purpose and values were aligned with my values and expectations. I also tried to understand the type of boards I was applying for—governance, operational, advisory—and what the role would involve. What is the time commitment and how often does the board and its committees meet? Most importantly, I had to ask myself if I had the skills and experience that the organization is seeking. Some organizations choose potential directors for character and then train for the competence required.

The two organizations I joined approached the new director orientation somewhat differently. One held a formal board orientation session led by the executive director prior to the first board and committee meetings. The second invited me to observe a board meeting and the strategic planning session before the board orientation session. Both approaches can work, however, my preference was taking part in the orientation session prior to the first board meeting as this gave me more confidence and the ability to contribute immediately.


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