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Board Service: Onboarding New Members

As a follow-up to Government Boards and Commissions: A Quick Guide to Board Service, here is some guidance on onboarding new board members. Perhaps you work with a board or support the work of a board directly. Boards and commissions involve all aspects and levels of government. Some boards work on regulating industries, while others advise departments and agencies on initiatives. It’s important to remember that boards are primarily made up of volunteers. An effective onboarding process sets expectations and sets board members up for success.

Introductory E-mail or Phone Call

Once board members are selected or appointed, go ahead and reach out to them. You can write them a congratulatory e-mail or give them a quick phone call welcoming them to the board. If there is a president or chair of the board, I also recommend having them reach out to introduce themselves. A personal connection always makes a great first impression.

Board Handbook

As a follow-up to the introductory e-mail or phone call, send the new member a copy of the board’s handbook or standard operating procedures. This will provide them with some reading material while they wait for their orientation or the next board meeting. If you do not have a handbook, think about putting one together. There are templates all over the internet you can browse and base yours off. This can be a quick reference of website links, contact list of current members and background information on the agency or department.


Schedule an orientation to facilitate any questions prior to the first board meeting. This will provide you the opportunity to dig deeper into the handbook and discuss the current work of the board. If there are several new board members, this will also be a great time for new members to meet each other. Consider an icebreaker, staff introductions, an overview of the agency or department and perhaps inviting a few current board members to discuss their roles and responsibilities. The investment in an orientation will give new members the tools they need to be successful at their first meeting.

First Meeting Support

During the first meeting, make sure there is time at the beginning to go through member introductions. Create a template, such as” name, locality, profession and favorite part of serving on the board. If they’re a new board member, ask them to share why they decided to serve. Throughout the meeting, make sure you stop to explain certain aspects of the work or discussion. New board members should feel included, not excluded, during the meeting. Take a moment to explain and ask questions directly to new board members.

Follow Up

After the first meeting, make sure you check in with your new board members in case they have any questions or concerns. This is also an opportunity to confirm their committee assignments to make sure they’re engaged so they understand next steps. You can connect them directly with other members in case they’re unsure who they need to follow up with. Check in as needed to make sure new board members feel supported.

How do you help new board members ease into their work? Share your tips in the comments below.

You may also be interested in National Council of Nonprofits’ Board Orientation.

Maribel Castañeda currently serves at the pleasure of Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam as the Director of Appointments in the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office. She facilitates the appointment process for over 300 state boards and commissions or about 800 appointments each year. She bridges communication between constituents, state agencies, Governor’s Cabinet and organizations who want to share a voice in their government. Her vision is to have each board and commission reflect the Virginia that exists today. Maribel also serves as the Director of Latino Outreach connecting the Hispanic and Latino community to resources and services.

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