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Management of Non-Profit Organizations

"BOARD ORIENTATION: An Essential Building Block to a Strong Partnership"
By Margo McDonnell, Executive Director

Here is a familiar scenario within non-profit organizations. After years of active participation on numerous committees, a member is elected to serve on the governing board of directors, often without a thorough understanding of what is involved. This can be a recipe for disaster, not to mention a liability for the association.

Conducting a formal board orientation session is an excellent way to educate a newly elected officer regarding his/her specific role and is a great time to set clear expectations with regards to the level of commitment required to fulfill a leadership position.

The actual orientation program can vary based on the association or society; however, it should include a general overview of the organization's history, policies and procedures, strategic initiatives, organizational structure and financial status. Another very important element of the training should be to explain the role of the professional association management team and how it differs from that of the volunteer leaders. This understanding will help avoid duplication of efforts, create an effective working relationship and provide for a productive and enjoyable term.

The board orientation should be done whenever a new board term begins. This serves to not only provide an introduction to new directors, but also serves as a refresher to current directors. The written materials (electronic, DVD, or hardcopy) will serve as a reference book throughout the director's term.

Some of the major areas to be included in the orientation manual may include:

  • History / Mission and Vision Statement
  • Organizational Chart (Volunteer and Association Management Company)
  • Specific Role and Responsibilities of the Professional Association Management Team (Handles all the details)
  • Specific Role and Responsibilities of the Board of Directors (Focus on the Big Picture)
  • Committee Structure, Goals and Initiatives of each Committee
  • Membership Overview and Growth Initiatives
  • Legal Documents such as Bylaws
  • Policies and Procedures
  • Financial Information / Investment Strategy / Budgeting Process
  • Strategic Plan

The orientation serves as an essential building block in the partnership between the board and the association management team. Generally speaking, the board should maintain focus on the mission and strategic goals, while the association management team is responsible for the daily administration of the organization.

When working with an Association Management Company (AMC), the board can count on the management team to provide expertise in all areas of operations from governance to membership retention to leadership development. The AMC's expertise should be considered a valuable resource for the volunteer board of directors.