Envision Your Best Board Member Orientation Ever

Equip new board members to serve from day one.


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


The author—a friend of mine—often jokes
that a greeter at Walmart gets more orientation
than most board members ever do. We all know that’s no joke.
It’s true for boards of every description. And it is appalling.[1]

Patrick Lencioni


Jay joined the ministry board. His only board experience was serving on for-profit boards and his church board. Neither service provided him with a good background for service on this board.

He expected to receive a board orientation but never did. He was welcomed at his first board meeting. The board chair said it would be easy for him to catch up to the board’s style of governance. In other words, the board tossed Jay into the deep end. After serving for two years, he began to understand the ministry and what serving on this board was all about.

Contrast this with Becky, who joined another ministry board. Once she was elected to the board, she received a thorough electronic binder of background materials. Prior to her first meeting, the board chair, the governance committee chair, and the CEO conducted a two-hour orientation with her explaining key ministry information and sharing the inner workings of the board. She had an opportunity to ask background questions. With her learning curve shortened, Becky felt well prepared to be an active and productive board member at her very first meeting.

Orientation of new board members is one of the most neglected aspects of board governance. Many ministries don’t do it at all, leaving their board members to wing it.[2] The quality of the orientation process is a reflection of the quality of the board and the ministry.

A solid orientation begins at the pre-election point. This is when a prospective board member is provided information on the history, mission, and culture of your ministry.

The more rigorous orientation begins post-election but before the new member’s first board meeting. This process requires scheduling, planning, and thoughtful execution. If more than one new board member is joining the board at the same time, perhaps a joint meeting can be arranged for time efficiency.

For local boards, there is often more flexibility in scheduling an in-person meeting with the board chair, CEO, and board governance chair. Larger ministries may want to include the chief operating officer, chief financial officer, and chief development officer in the meeting. For boards with members from across a region, the United States, or the world, the orientation may immediately precede their first board meeting or be conducted electronically.

What are the elements of a first-class board member orientation?  Here are the basics:

A.  History of the ministry

B.  Mission, Vision, and Core Values statements

C.  Update on major trends by ministry segment

D. Basic board information

  1. Board member bios
  2. Board committee members and charters
  3. Ministry bylaws
  4. Board meeting minutes—for at least the previous 12 months
  5. Summary of directors’ and officers’ insurance coverage
  6. Board Policies Manual
  7. Board member duties and responsibilities including:
    1. Conflict of interest policy
    2. Confidentiality policy
  8. Board travel reimbursement policy
  9. Calendar of meetings for at least the next two years

E.  Financial information and IRS filings

  1. Most recent budget
  2. Most recent interim financial reports
  3. Most recent yearend financial reports
  4. Most recent Form 990, if applicable

F.  Strategic plan

  1. Current and multi-year plan
  2. Program overview

G.  Key dashboard indicators and metrics—financial and programmatic

H.  Key organizational information

  1. Ministry’s major programs and services. If the organization provides services internationally, provide an overview of such programs, including how the ministry provides oversight of services carried out.
  2. Resource development plan and opportunities or expectations for board member participation
  3. Organizational chart
  4. Key staff position descriptions
  5. Key staff member bios

I.  Tour of the facilities, if appropriate

J.  Question and answer session

The point of an outstanding board member orientation process is to:

  • Prepare a board member to productively serve from day one.
  • Inform the new member about their role and how the ministry operates.
  • Make the board member proud of their new role and be able to share a few accomplishments of the ministry with family, friends, and colleagues.
  • Help the new member feel valued and appreciated.

Mike Batts, president and managing partner of Batts Morrison Wales and Lee, notes that “numerous HR sources are now saying that one of the most powerful tools for employee engagement and retention is a quality onboarding process. If employee onboarding leads to dramatic differences in loyalty and performance, it would seem intuitive that an excellent board member onboarding process could have a similar effect. Great board member orientation is one of those ‘win-win’ scenarios we all look for.”[3]

When you build a powerful orientation process into your board member recruitment process, you will be equipping new board members to serve with confidence from day one.



It is difficult to overestimate the importance
of a quality orientation process for new board members.
Failure to do so disrespects the value of the new members
and discredits the board and the ministry.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Assess: Evaluate your ministry’s current orientation process for new board members.
  2. Improve: Determine how the board member orientation process can be improved. View the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members.[4]
  3. Implement: Take immediate steps to improve the orientation process.



Lord, may we be good stewards of the service of new board members,
preparing them to make positive contributions from day one
of their board service. Amen.



[1] Patrick Lencioni, foreword to The Imperfect Board Member: Discovering the Seven Disciplines of Governance Excellence, by Jim Brown (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), xi.

[2] Michael E. Batts, Board Member Orientation: The Concise and Complete Guide to Nonprofit Board Service (Orlando: Accountability Press, 2011), i.

[3] Michael Batts, “Envision Your Best Board Member Orientation Ever,” Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom (blog), July 11, 2018, http://nonprofitboardroom.blogspot.com/2018/07/lesson-34-envision-your-best-board.html.

[4] ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1: Recruiting Board Members—Leveraging the 4 Phases of Board Recruitment: Cultivation, Recruitment, Orientation, Engagement (Winchester, VA: ECFAPress, 2012), https://www.ecfa.org/ProductDownload.aspx?ProductID=78.

From Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, 2018, www.ECFA.org/KnowledgeCenter.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.