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The Orientation Hokey Pokey

You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out, you put your right foot in and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey…I guess you have to be of a certain age to “get” this. We did the Hokey Pokey at junior high cotillion (Wednesday night dance party at Temple Tiferith Israel), and then at bar mitzvahs, weddings…the whole megilah.

Effective nonprofit organizations with hard-working, engaged boards of directors don’t do the Hokey Pokey.  They do honest-to-goodness orientation of new board members. So they get the culture, they understand the rules of the road, and they’re prepared to participate as full partners at board meetings and on a committee.  Or maybe two committees. Solid board orientation helps set the right tone for members so they know what’s up and prepare to be full participants.

Smart orientation can look something like this:

  • There’s an up-to-date Board Manual with updated bylaws, full set of policies (personnel, affirmative action, non-discrimination), job description of CEO, job description for board members, meeting dates for the coming year, copy of current budget and work plan in progress.
  • The CEO arranges a lunch or breakfast or light supper meeting for newcomers to board as well as two or three officers of the board.  Work is divided up among the leaders.
  • The chair of the board shares how meetings are run, the usual business of the board, and highlights three-to-five items from the governance documents in the manual that are important to her. Questions and discussion are invited.
  • The treasurer or chair of finance committee gives a brief overview of finances, highlights of the budget process, and points out three (or so) key elements from the most recent financial statement that describe the current $ situation for the nonprofit. Also, a comment or two on the most recent annual audit.
  • The CEO invites key staff she believes can help talk about the role of this nonprofit in the community, internal and external communications, the program objectives for the current year, how they are progressing, where they could most use help.

The chair of the board has an idea of committee assignments for the newcomers. These are discussed in advance of the meeting so there are no surprises. At the meeting, the chair announces the assignments to all, asks if there are questions.

In most cases, there is a standard way board members are asked to make an annual donation to the nonprofit. This is mentioned by one of the board members present: when the ask comes, the % of board members who give, perhaps the average gift.

And if there is (or are) training session(s) for the board as a whole during the year, this is known in advance and touched on at orientation. The importance of development of the board, and keeping the group up with current information and best practice is shared.

Board members appreciate this kind of activity conducted in a professional, efficient manner. All come on time. And the meeting adjourns on time.

This makes the experience more like Dancing with the Stars and less like the Hokey Pokey.

Okey dokey?

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