February 23rd, 2023

Onboarding new directors to your board is crucial to ensure they have a smooth transition and are set up for success from the start. Experienced board director Beth Lewis (Chair of the Thrivent Federal Credit Union Board) recently joined the Athena community to share strategies to proactively make your new directors’ onboarding experience a success.

Here are some tips and best practices she shared…

Offer Practical Information & Supporting Materials

Ensure the nominating or onboarding committee provides new directors with practical information and supporting materials. This may include… 

  1. Basic instructions on the time and dates of the meetings 
  2. Location of the meetings and if remote dial-in is an option
  3. How to access board meeting documents and when they’re available to review
  4. Access to historical documents
  5. Travel or login instructions
  6. A generous welcome of the newcomers and introductions of everyone 
  7. General information like wi-fi code, location of restrooms, coffee, water

Assign a Mentor or ‘Board Buddy’

Assigning a mentor or “board buddy” is a great way to support new directors. This person should be an experienced director who has been on the board for several years and knows the company and board culture well. The mentor can sit next to the new director during meetings, have conversations before, during, and after meetings, and answer questions the new director may not want to ask in the group.

Mentors should drive the relationship and be intentional about chatting with the newcomer asking about what’s going well, what questions they may have, what’s confusing, which acronyms is the group using that the new director may be clueless about, etc. Offer intentional invitations to join different groups during breaks, lunch, or after meeting cocktails, etc. 

Offer Regular Board Orientation Sessions

Offering board orientation sessions with board and executive leaders prior to a director’s first board meeting is important. At least one orientation session should be held before the first board meeting, with follow-up sessions scheduled over the next 6 to 12 months. This will prevent new directors from being overwhelmed with information. 

Your board orientation should be held at least one day before the board meeting. The Board Chair, the mentor, the CEO, the CFO, and others depending on the organization and the content of the board meeting should be in attendance. The concept of breaking bread together really can make a difference in terms of building relationships – plan for time to socialize the night before or meet for breakfast the day of. 

A basic outline may look like this:

  1. Welcome and intros
  2. Have the Board Chair share how the board functions; rules, ethics, and covenant statements (if applicable); and key issues facing the board
  3. Have the CEO talk about the organization’s mission, strategy, goals, key products, business cycles, industry competitive environment
  4. Have the CFO review the financials and any risk analysis they’re doing
  5. If it’s an onsite meeting, take a tour of the facility

We recommend scheduling orientation sessions across the first 6 months to 1 year. While it takes time and is an investment, having a newcomer on your board is also an investment. (And a failed onboarding process will cost your company even more in the long run!)

Be Hospitable

Basic hospitality should be standard. Send out a welcome letter as soon as a director is selected, ensure there are name tags for everyone, tent cards on the table with names, and a check-in call or email from the Board Chair and/or CEO after the first meeting. Mentors should check in with new directors during breaks and meals, inviting them to join different groups, and checking in again after the first board meeting.

Ensure New Directors Understand Their Governance Roles

It’s important to ensure new directors understand their governance roles. The board’s role is oversight, fiduciary responsibility, and strategic thinking– not micromanaging the executive team. To help new directors understand their role, remind them that the board’s role is to steer the boat, not row the boat – or as we like to say, “nose in, fingers out”.

By implementing these onboarding tips, you can ensure your new board directors will be set up for success from the start. If you’d like to learn more about our recruitment services and how Athena can support you in diversifying and strengthening your board, contact us at [email protected] or fill out this inquiry form. Our team will respond within 24 hours.

Athena members can watch the full Salon recording with Beth’s tips on-demand here. Athena helps women leaders make their biggest career leaps yet – into the C-suite, into the boardroom, and beyond. Learn more about membership here.



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