MaryHilandThank you to Mary Hiland, Ph.D., for this guest blog article on a topic of great importance to nonprofit executive directors – orienting new board members. Mary is a nonprofit board and leadership development consultant dedicated to assisting nonprofit executives and board members unleash their potential for organizational and community impact. She spent 26 years as an executive in the nonprofit sector, where she grew a small nonprofit into one of the largest nonprofits in the Bay Area. She has been a consultant for the past 16 years working with hundreds of nonprofit organizations and their leaders. Learn more about Mary at her website.

Nonprofit organizations provide critical and life-enhancing services to our communities. If you are a nonprofit executive or board member, you know first-hand what a valuable role you play.

But, we all have a stake in nonprofits’ success. And we know that to achieve that success, a nonprofit must be led by an effective board of directors and must mobilize board members to advance the nonprofit’s mission.

One of the biggest opportunities to ensure a nonprofit board realizes its full potential is in orienting new board members.

Orienting board members effectively, however, isn’t easy. That may be why it is so rare.

I’ve gathered information about experiences of board members from a wide range of nonprofits. When asked if they had ever had any orientation to the job of being a board member, 78% of them said none! Another 13% had only one workshop/training experience ever.

Often the job of orienting board members falls to the executive director. In my experience, however, when executives do the orientation their focus is generally more on educating board members about the organization’s programs and services rather than what it means to be a board member. So, where’s the disconnect?

It’s actually pretty simple….

Most board orientations focus on information about the nonprofit itself. And that’s important. But there are lots of missing pieces. The “governance stuff” is either left out or so minimal that board members promptly forget it. Governance items include things like board members’ roles and responsibilities as distinct from those of staff, board members’ three legal duties, why boards are important, and the positive impact effective boards have.

Nonprofit leaders face three other challenges with board orientation:

  • Board orientations emphasize oversight and rules, instead of focusing on board member opportunities for impact and contribution.
  • The time commitment to repeat orientation whenever a new member joins can be a burden.
  • And, it’s hard to ensure every board member receives consistent and comprehensive information.

What’s the result? At best, board members don’t have all the information and inspiration they need to fully contribute to their job and the mission. In worst cases, board members micromanage the executive director because they don’t understand the boundaries of their role.

Over the last 16 years, I have seen what an asset an effective board can be. And I’m passionate about helping nonprofit leaders unleash the full potential of their boards — starting from the moment they join a nonprofit. I want to make nonprofit board orientation effective (and easy).

That’s why I created a free training, “The 3 Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make Orienting Board Members That Cost Time and Resources.” These mistakes cost valuable time and resources, and I want nonprofit leaders to have the tips they need to avoid them.

If you’re a nonprofit leader, watch the free training by clicking here.

If you’re not involved with a nonprofit right now, share this with someone who is.

All the best!




PS Thanks Michelle for inviting me to share this with your readers!