18 Feb

Let’s Give Them a Warm (& Helpful) Welcome!

Building a Knockout Board Orientation Program

Considering that the Board determines the future of your club in a multitude of ways, it is important to get each and every Board Member started on the right foot. Creating a thoughtful orientation program can make the difference between a productive Board Member and a frustrated (or apathetic) Board Member. An excellent Orientation should leave a new Board Member feeling secure in their position and excited to begin forging a bright future for the club! Of course, this is easier said than done.

Let’s take a peek at the essential components of a successful Board Orientation…


Step 1: Create an Optimal Learning Environment

It’s no secret that our surroundings can make a huge difference for learning comprehension. With this in mind, it’s critical to create the ideal environment for properly and effectively orienting your new Board Members.

First, it is important for new Board Members to know how much time and dedication is expected of them upfront. “Laying out expectations for the orientation in advance lets them carve out time in their schedules and understand how in-depth the orientation is going to be. It’s important to work with their schedules, but they need to know that the Orientation is not just a 15-minute process,” says Michael Stott, General Manager of the Baltimore Country Club.

Secondly, it is important to consider the location of the orientation. Some clubs choose to host their orientation in a relaxing environment away from the club, such as an upscale restaurant or hotel. This allows the General Manager and Board to truly welcome new Board Members with open arms and avoid interruptions from Club staff. Unfortunately, holding an off-site orientation sacrifices the opportunity to give your new Board Members a back-of-house tour, or show them club facilities that they probably haven’t explored as regular members. But we’ll discuss why an understanding of club operation is so important later!

There is also the question of group size. Though most clubs only elect a few Board Members at a time, it’s important to consider whether you want to orient them individually or in a group. Orienting new Board Members independently allows each new recruit to enjoy individualized attention and ask a wide variety of questions. Orienting everyone in one fell swoop saves time, but risks sacrificing quality in the process. Ultimately, the number of Members you orient at once will depend on your need to conserve time and your ability to communicate effectively. Choose the option that works best for you and your club!


Step 2: Define the Position Parameters

It is important to convey the boundaries and responsibilities of the position clearly. Understanding the “Do’s and Don’ts” of the role not only prevents them from overstepping their boundaries, but also helps them recognize when they are being saddled with excess responsibilities. Unlike management, Board Members are still very much club members, and while this provides them with special insight into the wants and needs of their fellow members, it is not unusual for people to inadvertently use Board Members as gofers between membership and management. This creates extra stress for Board Members and complicates communications between operations and the membership.

Sharply define the Board Member’s role by creating a detailed policy manual that outlines board values, structure, and function. This manual can even include details about each club committee, giving new recruits a rich image of the club’s government.


Step 3: Go Behind the Curtain

While the Board is not responsible for club operations, it is vital that they understand day-to-day management functions and expenses. “Board members should have a good overview of operations, department heads, and the challenges that the club faces on a regular basis. It’s important that they understand the complexities behind running the club,” says Rick Snellinger, President and CEO of Chambers.

If the Board’s job is to govern, then why should they be concerned with the club operations? Keep in mind that most Board Members may have served in corporate policy-making positions before, but have never gotten a behind-the-scenes looks at club life. They may have a lot of great ideas for improving the club, but they may not fully grasp what goes into creating the club experience.  It is virtually impossible to make quality decisions on policy unless Board Members are not only familiar with the member experience, but also with club operations and finances.

It is for that very reason that holding your Board Orientation on site is the best option for most clubs. It is easier on club funds and also provides an opportunity for new Board Members to tour back-of-house facilities and see how the club actually functions.

Over the course of a Board Member’s term, they will receive a number of member requests for capital. Knowing which facilities actually need these resources will help them discern which requests to consider and which to dispose of. Ultimately, understanding what facilities and operations have been neglected will help Board Members create thoughtful policy throughout their term.


Step 4: Share Club Goals

New Board Members must fully understand where the club is currently positioned in the market and where it is headed in the future if they are going to create useful policy. There is no better time to introduce them to these ideas than during Board Orientation! “We provide a full binder with our business plan, including all of the budgeting for the fiscal year, as well as the strategic plan. It’s critical to give them something to take home and reference after the orientation is over,” says Stott. These documents can even be combined with the position parameters to create a comprehensive manual and essential reference.

The strongest clubs are those who fully embrace their club culture, mission, and vision, ensuring that all key decisions lead back to the core ideals and goals of the club. Does your club adhere to strict financial and strategic plans? We hope so! These are crucial documents for governing the club, so be sure to review them in detail with new Board Members. Instilling the core values and goals of the club (as well as the driving forces behind them) within each Board Member allows them to better understand how their decisions fit into the bigger picture.

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  1. John Ferrell

    I like that you said that board members must fully understand where the club is positioned in the market. If someone doesn’t know how well a company is doing then they might cost the company money for being too cheap. It might be a good idea to talk about this one on one with the employees.

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