Clubs known for their good governance and overall success have one thing in common: a great board orientation. A common complaint heard during club visits by KK&W is that board members feel they could have been better prepared for their role on the board. The perfect opportunity to start board members off on the right foot, set them up for success and foster greater efficiency is by holding a mandatory board orientation at the beginning of a new board’s term.

Board orientation is a one-time annual event that explains responsibilities, goals, expectations and sets the stage for constant learning and education throughout the year ahead. To create a high-functioning board of directors, a comprehensive board orientation must occur.

Remember the last time you were a “freshman” or first-timer at anything where there is already a group in place that you were then joining? No matter how long someone might have been a member of the club, becoming a board member is not something to be taken lightly. Shortening the learning curve through a well-organized orientation allows them to become positive contributors more quickly and feeling comfortable doing so benefits all involved.

The ingredients for a successful board orientation include the necessary time and commitment to do it right. At a minimum, a board orientation should be a one-day event, where all board members (new and existing) are required to attend. Mandatory attendance is critical, and the involvement of returning board members is equally important to help convey the dynamics of how business is done and to help reassure new board members of the desire for a fully participative board.

There is a lot of information to include, and an organized and detailed approach is the key to getting board members quickly up to speed. Proper education and perspective are important as board members must understand that clubs are a different kind of operation and therefore, they are often ran differently than most of their own personal businesses. The highest performing clubs also take reflecting on how they are doing as a board very seriously. They make it a priority to objectively assess themselves through an anonymous board self-evaluation process, to understand how they are performing with respect to connectivity to the membership, strategic direction, board structure and process and the board’s relationship with the club manager.


Orientation should start off with a welcome and overview of the day by the general manager and club president. Then the general manager leads the group through an explanation of the club mission statement, club organizational structure, overview/background of the club and the roles and responsibilities of the board, management team and committees.

Responsibility Matrix – One of the most important elements in board orientation, the responsibility matrix, is essential for board members to understand their roles, responsibilities and how they connect to the overall organization. This is crucial for creating board members who are productive and confident. The responsibility matrix details who is responsible for what, thus creating the foundation for a high-functioning board. When managers “manage” and directors “direct” or governors “govern,” that is when we see clubs operate efficiently.

Governance Documents – The general manager should walk through the details of club governance by explaining the following: committee responsibilities and charters, the role of the committee chair, board member code of conduct, recently amended bylaws, member grievance flow chart, nominating committee description and responsibilities, member conduct and disciplinary actions and any other documents pertinent to the club’s governance and policy manual. Include core values and guiding principles that are the foundation of how the club operates and ultimately makes decisions. It’s important to explain how the club functions to help board members understand their role on a deeper level. During this section, it is also wise to present supporting industry publications, articles and other outside sources to help validate your explanation of club governance and provide other opportunities for further education.


Strategic Plan – It is also crucial to offer an overview of the history of how the multi-year, rolling strategic plan has been developed and guides annual goals and objectives for the entire club, including committees. Articulating the primary focus of the boards from past years helps to maintain clarity of purpose and provide a scorecard of success. It is a best practice for the outgoing board to set goals and objectives for the incoming board and committees.

Finances – Including a review of the budget, budgeting process and overall financial status of the club is beneficial. This portion may be conducted by the chief financial officer and should include a description of what it means to be a truly private club and how it impacts tax-exempt status (if applicable). Detail legal issues pertinent to the club and review any other local or industry issues that are specific to your club. It’s also important to emphasize and remind board members of the high level of fiduciary responsibility they have both legally and morally.

Membership – Have the membership director provide an overview of the membership process, how member recruitment works, an update on the club’s membership status/ growth, membership pricing philosophies and any member recognition efforts. This is also a great time to remind board members that member recruitment is part of their responsibility as well.

Club Organization Chart – Another key element in board orientation is having the general manager walk through the organizational structure, main positions and their backgrounds/previous experience, any human resources initiatives, employee handbook updates, scholarship programs, internship programs and any other pertinent staff issues or information that would be beneficial for board members to know. High-performing clubs allocate half a day to building trust and confidence between the board and key department heads. Staff leadership should be encouraged to share their professional background and unique capabilities, club tenure, the details of their role, the number of people within their team, the level of interaction the board can expect and interesting facts about their department.

Club Tour – This also presents a great time for a detailed tour of the club property—both front and back of house. Have each department head stationed in their area and allow him or her to show board members around, introduce essential employees, discuss the department layout and overall operations. Consider adding unique ways to provide information on the tour. For example, consider parking several high-dollar pieces of equipment in a visible location during the golf course/grounds building tour. Include a “price tag” on each piece of equipment so board members can see just how much one mower may cost. The same may be helpful with equipment in the kitchen. Give department heads the opportunity to answer questions and showcase their recent achievements. This is a great way to build rapport of department heads and recognize their contributions to the success of the operation.

Goal Setting – Dedicate time to discussing goal setting, which is essential for a high-performing board. This is a great opportunity to correlate the board’s own self-evaluation results from the outgoing board responses with the goals presented and design a focused action plan for the coming year.

Meetings – Include a review of how board time should be spent by giving them an agenda. This can help them to understand the significance of their impact on strategic vs. operational issues. Below are the three key areas of focus for boards to channel their influence:

  • Fiduciary – Board actions that involve annual accounts, budget directives and initiatives, auditors’ reports, planning and committee review.
  • Talent – Measuring and acting on talent reviews, setting talent objectives for the year, reviewing top management, and utilizing a club engagement survey.
  • Decision – Focus on decision making for budgets, investments and nominations, while approving a yearly business plan utilizing a balance scorecard approach.

Plan appropriate breaks, meals and allow time for questions and answers as you go along. The key to a successful board orientation is engaging board members, keeping things light and informational and not getting too mired in details. Review pertinent topics and then provide resources or hard copies for a more in-depth analysis on an individual basis. Allow time for questions, discussion and bonding between board members and department heads in order to further build confidence, trust and focus on results.

Contributed by Richard Kopplin, Kurt D. Kuebler, CCM & Thomas B. Wallace Ill, CCM, CCE, ECM

CLUB TRENDS – Summer 2021