There’s a Better Way to Train Boards. Take a Look.

For NACE International, bite-size videos are a solution to the drudgery of board orientation.

Board orientation is a roadblock. For a new volunteer leader, there are few things more dispiriting than being told they’ll be charged with thinking big thoughts and setting strategy for an organization, and then kicking things off with a drowsy discussion of bylaws.

That stuff is essential, of course. New volunteers have have a duty to know understand how an organization is run—its structure, its code of ethics, its policies and procedures, its legal landmines. But a lot of associations still deliver this information in ways that guarantee tedium. There are stacks of briefing books and hours-long sit down sessions at the first meeting of the new board, which siphon time away from strategic discussions.

For the past couple of years, the corrosion-industry association NACE International has been looking for a better way. “We just were not happy with our onboarding process of new board members,” says executive director and CEO Bob Chalker, CAE, “It would basically hit them with a firehose of information in a half-day or all-day session…. It wasn’t working.” But NACE’s marketing department had been doing more with video for events and programs, so Chalker suggested trying it out with the board. “You’re saying this is a better way to communicate, why not try it here?”

Now, NACE breaks down its orientation into a series of videos that board members can watch on their own time before the meeting. You can see for yourself how that works: After using orientation videos for the first time last June, it’s made all 28 videos available publicly on its website. Nearly 30 videos doesn’t immediately suggest efficiency, but most of them are quite short, usually around five minutes, with many clocking in under two; none are longer than ten. And most of them are basic enough that many associations could use them without much adjustment. Here, for instance, is the segment on the representative governance model:

And here’s a brief discussion of ethics:

NACE is a global association with a sizable marketing budget. But the videos aren’t especially fancy (though they aren’t unprofessional either), and they were produced entirely in-house. “We took the content from our [orientation] presentation, my public affairs person scripted it,” says Chalker. “We have guy who used to work for a television company and has quite a bit of expertise in video, but we did it with real simple stuff. The camera is a $1,000 camera, much cheaper than doing it outside, contracting it out.” The on-air talent is shoestring too, with many of the videos narrated by Chalker himself. But he also solicited staffers and members to participate as well, to highlight the breadth of participation at the association.

Though most of the videos are introductory sketches on a topic, a few are deeper dives into a subject. Here, for instance, is the video on antitrust, which clocks in at an epic ten minutes and 20 seconds:

The length—not to mention Chalker’s no-fooling-you-need-to-listen-to-this tone—suggests importance. “I didn’t think we were paying enough attention to antitrust,” he says. “There were no violations [at NACE] but then we also weren’t necessarily raising awareness of us as an organization of the risk of it. I wanted to have a video that really drove home the importance of it and what they need to do.”

Chalker is confident that the videos are serving their main purpose: getting board members up to speed on the essentials of their work that allows them to do it on their own time in a digestible fashion. NACE can track who’s watching what videos, and its annual meeting this week it’ll have a more extended conversation about how to improve the presentations the next time around.

But one interesting side effect of these modular videos, NACE has learned, is that their use isn’t limited to the board. “Once we had the videos, we realized they were a lot more valuable than just for board orientation,” he says. The antitrust video, for instance, is used in other groups that run into potential antitrust issues, such as its standards committee. The videos as a whole are also part of NACE’s future-leaders program, and they’re also promoted to the membership at large who want to know more about NACE’s structure.

“I think one of the problems associations struggle with is, depending on what part of the organization a member may come into or through, that’s the part they know really well. We got members that have been engaged with NACE for over 20 years and didn’t know that we did certain things. This is a way to really raise the awareness to the membership of everything that NACE does.”

What does your organization do to make board orientation more efficient and appealing? Share your experiences in the comments.


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!