Ensuring New Board Members Feel Informed & Engaged
Spark used SEE to rethink its new board member orientation meeting, developing strategies for sharing information in a more helpful, engaging way.
Spark the Change Colorado wanted to get its new board members up-to-speed quickly. Its approach had always been to provide new members with everything they might ever need to know during a one-hour orientation session. But this had the opposite effect: a meeting meant to be informative and inspire engagement felt more like drinking from a fire hose. Using SEE, Spark articulated its priorities for its new board members and revised its orientation structure to accomplish that.
Thinking with SEE
At Spark the Change Colorado, our challenge was to provide a strong foundation for new board members to understand our culture, norms, mission, vision, strategic plan, programs, budget, financial health, growth, brand….and the list goes on. Our practice was to share everything a board member ever would need to know in a one-hour session and then wish them well. Think of it as drinking from a fire hose. We know our board members needed information in order to feel confident in participating in board discussions and decisions as well as to find the right place to serve. We observed that our approach was overwhelming, not effective and did not achieve a single objective. We knew they needed the information. However, we needed to build a new model to effectively communicate important information, introduce our culture, support their development, assist with engagement and provide the best volunteer experience possible.
Our first step was to prioritize the journey of a new board member. Throughout a 3 year term, we needed to determine what was most important for their first interaction, starting with the Orientation. Our next step was to build in recurring opportunities for immediate learning needs as well as those we could support over time. Our primary goal, however, is effective engagement that leads to meaningful service to the community. It’s our mission.
The Small Experiment
We took 3 steps and created 3 new initiatives. First, we reframed, redesigned, and added fun to the New Board Member Orientation. Specifically, we identified the information new board members needed on Day 1 and included those items in the presentation. We also created a web-based repository for everything else with the goal of creating a central place to look when a question arises. This all contributed to a new outline for the Orientation supported by a visual presentation that included reminders for presenters about our purpose and objectives. Hopefully, we eliminated the experience of drinking from the fire hose.
Second, we created a Buddy Program, which paired each new board member with a veteran board member. The idea was to build-in an immediate connection so that when a new board member arrives at a meeting, he or she can find a familiar face. To create this situation we asked the following:
- Buddies and new board members connected prior to the first board meeting. Objectives were to go over the materials for the meeting, share culture, and any other tips – like don’t park on the west side of the street during street sweeping times!
- Buddies also met and sat next to the new board member during board meetings so discreet questions could be asked, providing confidence and information needed to participate in the discussion.
- We asked Buddies to watch over their new board member for at least 6 meetings as well as provide assistance in Choosing their Adventure – selecting a place to serve beyond the board meetings.
Finally, we introduced a Choose Your Own Adventure program, which was supported by the Buddy Program. We improved our Board Pledge and Participation form to invite all board members to consider their passions, skills, time, and interest in serving on at least one board committee. The form walks a board member through the process of choosing. New board members can take some time and support the decision by attending a committee meeting, calling the committee chair and/or discussing options with their Board Buddy. Our goal was to ensure new board members were engaged as soon as possible through an informed and supported process.
The best volunteer experience should always happen when volunteering for Metro Volunteers – a Volunteer Center. We know that volunteers desire to be engaged, make a difference, and not have their time wasted. These onboarding steps provided a clear, more efficient, and effective path for board members to feel welcomed and valued at their very first meeting. Jokingly heard at board meetings “Where’s my buddy? I need to sit next to my buddy!” illustrated that our welcoming culture was being codified. Further, veteran board members felt their expertise was valued and stepped into the role of mentor with intentionality. Our goal not only is to provide the best volunteer experience in Colorado but also to benefit from each board members’ expertise and experience during the entire 3-year term, beginning on Day 1.
We’ve been using this new approach to onboarding for 3 years. The Orientation and Choose your own Adventure pieces have been working well. Neither has been changed from its original form. The Buddy Program was a little harder to sustain. For Buddies, it was challenging to find another time to meet. Phone calls or emails replaced in-person meetings. While we suggested opportunities and content for communications, it really was an extra burden. The Board Buddy program is now handled by the Governance Committee at board meetings. We’re still welcoming new members with a friendly face as the Governance Committee also presents the Orientation.