Board members are invaluable when they have served for several years. But don’t overlook the immediate value of directors who are in their first year of service. These newcomers bring three gifts that expire by the end of their first year on the board: fresh eyes, fresh air, and fresh horses.
Seeing things for the first time can make it easier to notice problems that others miss. (Perhaps you even noticed a few yourself, that first year.) Over time, we become inured to some things as we attend to others. We mean to address a problem but became distracted. Then we become so used to it that we don’t see it anymore. But the problem is still there. Tell every new director, “You’re probably going to see things that don’t make sense. We’re counting on you to mention them.”
This is where a peer mentor can make a big difference. The mentor takes the initiative, asking the new director to point out aspects of board process, policy, or the organization that need attention. In some cases, this will highlight ways to improve the training and orientation of new directors. In others, a new director may help the board see a significant opportunity for improvement.
New board members can excel at asking the impertinent question. Be grateful. Every board needs people at the table to ask the questions others don’t think of —or have avoided asking. New board members may infuse strategic planning, policy governance, and fundraising with dramatically different ideas. If the board is selecting new directors wisely, then those first-year members help the board stay accessible and attuned to the feelings and perceptions of those not on the board.
Even the best board members tire out eventually. Things start happening by rote. Opportunities may be missed or underplayed. The class of new directors can bring renewed energy to governance, committees, and advocacy. Give new directors free rein to try out ideas and initiate projects with the guidance of the board chair and peer mentors. A skilled board chair and an attentive mentor will involve the new directors as soon as possible in the most critical areas of the board’s work.
There is no substitute for experienced board members who care about what the organization is trying to achieve and are committed to seeing those intended outcomes become reality. But don’t think of those first-year directors simply as board-members-in-training. Their most valuable contribution to the work of the board is found in their newness, and it’s only available for a short time. Act now.
10-Minute Board Discussion
What did you see or experience your first year on the board that didn’t make sense?
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com/Abramova_Kseniya.
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