That’s right – it’s possible to conduct energetic orientations that inspire your new members!

A common concern among nonprofit CEOs is how to conduct an effective orientation for new board members.   Understand something: a one-time orientation session isn’t the solution alone. A year-long onboarding plan needs to be in place.

For now, let’s start at the beginning and show you how to conduct a dynamic and inspiring orientation. Your new members deserve your best.

There are several goals to be considered:

  • Start building relationships among board members. They need to bond in order to work well together as a team.
  • Create a good first impression that reflects the professionalism of your organization.
  • Discuss key information about the organization and its culture so they have a strong foundation on which to make good decisions and understand how business is conducted.
  • Provide a simple overview of legal documents and responsibilities so they clearly understand their fiduciary responsibilities.
  • Carefully review board member expectations and roles again for clarity.
  • Engage new members in valuable discussion.

Make sense?

So now how do we get that done effectively without it being a snooze fest?

Here are 7 winning practices to consider:

1. Hold an orientation the same month every year and establish the time when all new members can attend as the new, enthusiastic “class!”

It’s inspiring to belong to a group of dedicated volunteers who are joining the board at the same time. This group dynamic is much different than a one-on-one meeting and they will learn from each other, also.

2. Ideally, have the Board President facilitate the orientation (assuming they have strong facilitation skills), with support from the CEO and President Elect, or another tenured board member.

They are the leaders of the organization and this is a prime opportunity to demonstrate leadership.  New members can have early access to these folks and instantly feel part of the team.

3.  Create an organized agenda (see sample below) with opportunities to participate that will increase learning and engagement.
The orientation is not meant to be a lecture with one-way communication only. Unless you want everyone to ignore you and start checking their phones.

Distribute as much information in advance as practical (if you want a list of documents to send, let me know). Then you won’t waste time sharing information during the orientation.

4.  Be sure the new members understand they are expected to review the information in advance, as you won’t be discussing the details. Instead, you can ask them questions and focus on the big items such as strategic priorities and how they can engage.

Bylaws are important but it’s also important to use your board members’ time wisely on what matters most.  They didn’t join your board to discuss term limits.

5.  Spend time up front planning for dynamic, two-way discussion.  I can’t emphasize this enough. Have an icebreaker and get them talking about themselves. Ask open-ended questions about the information you sent. Discuss committee assignments so they get plugged in right away.

This is highly effective at helping them feel valued early, while learning about the organization.  Create a culture of inquiry right from the start and your odds of engaging them early dramatically increases.

6.  Allow time to have Q and A too. And remember to ask for feedback on the effectiveness of the orientation. This sends a powerful message about your commitment to their learning and development.

7.  Very soon it will be safe to gather in person and I highly recommend this when possible. Arrange for the rest of the board to join the group before or after the orientation to create an opportunity for socializing with all board members.

For example, if the orientation is held at 4:30 p.m., a cocktail hour could follow.  Or breakfast could precede it on a Saturday morning.   The more opportunities new members have to build relationships, the more likely they are to stay on the board.

High energy, successful board orientations will have the new members leaving with a bounce in their step!

It will confirm these volunteers made the right decision by agreeing to serve.  The amount of time you invest to ensure a lively, engaging session will reap rewards throughout the year.

New Board Member Orientation

– Our Purpose Today                                                            Board President
– Introductions (and icebreaker)

Who We Are – Organization Overview
– History and Key Milestones
– Services and Programs
– What Sets Us Apart
– Financial Overview
– Our Future Direction – Strategic Plan
– Quiz on Information sent in advance (keep it light and fun!)

How We Serve – Board Member Roles and Responsibilities
– Expectations: Oversight, Advisors, Ambassadors and Resource Generators
– Committee Structure
– Other Volunteer Needs

– Board Mentor
– Website and Social Media
– Board Portal
– Board Packet
– Q and A

Next Steps
– Important dates – Board Calendar


You’re making a first impression with these new members and they deserve your best. Get creative, and have some fun with it!