Benefits of a Well-Structured Board of Directors Orientation
You have been asked to join a board of directors and have accepted the nomination. What comes next? Naturally, you want to get up to speed as quickly as possible and contribute in your first meeting. What should you expect from your association?

An effective onboarding process should set the tone for your term, communicate your role and set expectations.

You should receive a welcome letter from the association that outlines details of the election process, and how it will be handled. Next, it is customary for new directors to receive an information packet that includes key documents such as the bylaws, policy manual, meeting minutes from the last year and the most recent financial audit. Finally, there should be a formal orientation, whether conducted virtually or face to face. Here’s what is commonly covered:

Board Duties

Board service is a big responsibility, as boards are accountable for the long-term viability of the organization. The orientation should address three essential duties:
  1. Care (financial stewardship and business judgment),
  2. Loyalty (selflessness) and
  3. Obedience (ethics and good intentions).
Organizational Overview
You should be keenly aware of the organization’s mission, vision and goals. Who are the members? What are the demographics? What is the association’s value proposition? How well defined is the brand? Is the association delivering on its promise? The orientation may cover other information, perhaps about upcoming events, key programs or services, or the state of the industry. You should also receive a schedule of critical dates and events for the year.

Know Your Team

Get to know the other directors, as well as the staff team and key suppliers (legal counsel, investment advisor and auditor). Building relationships develops mutual trust and respect.

Key Statistics and Trends

It would be helpful to know some association history. For example, knowing current membership statistics is one thing, but having a five-year trend provides context around the numbers, especially if you know what factors contributed to the trend.

The Strategic Plan

The orientation should provide an overview of the strategic plan. At the very least, you should be able to answer the following questions: Who are we? What do we do? For whom do we do it? And why do we do it? These questions relate to the mission. As for the vision, what does the association want to become? What will it “look like” when it gets there?

Your Role and Expectations
Generally, boards oversee four important areas:
  1. Financial stability,
  2. Good governance (policies),
  3. Chief staff executive performance and
  4. Strategic direction.
As an individual, it is your responsibility to attend all meetings, be prepared, participate, maintain confidentiality and speak as one voice with the other board of directors members.

Some Legal Stuff
The orientation should cover four important legal considerations:
  1. Conflicts of interest (they are not necessarily bad but must be acknowledged);
  2. Antitrust (violations are bad as the association can lose its tax-exempt status and people can be held individually accountable if found guilty);
  3. Apparent authority, which means that volunteers can legally bind the association, even if they don’t have authority to engage in a particular course of action and
  4. Risk management ,which addresses various means of volunteer protection.
Any High-Level Issues
The orientation will probably cover some general best practices about the board’s culture as well as some key association policies. Finally, have fun. Your term should be a rewarding experience. There will be hard work, and you will always receive more than you give. You will develop many partnerships and hopefully some lifelong friendships.


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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for 70 years.


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