This week we have our bylaw-mandated annual meeting of the membership, where the biggest annual order of business is to thank the outgoing board members, introduce the new board member nominees and get a vote from the membership on those new appointments. It’s typically quite routine and rarely challenged. In fact, in 17 years of chamber work, I’ve never seen a nominated director not be voted in.

Though this process may be routine, it’s also very important. The leadership team of any organization is critical, and for the new directors, being entrusted by the membership to help properly direct the organization is a weighty responsibility. As the executive director of the Bath-Brunswick Regional Chamber, meeting with the new director nominees to go over the board responsibilities is a favorite annual project.

Having completed two new director meetings this last week, it struck me how relevant these interactions are. With many new leaders taking over for retiring leaders, and many organizations asking their young leaders to join boards to get leadership experience, I thought it might be worthwhile to go over a few thoughts that I share with new directors that I’ve found to be helpful. These thoughts are not only good for nonprofit boards but can be useful for anyone new to a leadership team.

You are director worthy

This may seem obvious on the surface, but many people have a bit of an imposter syndrome when it comes to being asked to be on a board of directors. Many people think, “Oh, I’m not one of these buttoned-up business-type people,” and they think that makes them ineligible. That’s not the case at all. Ask any executive director, and the number one quality they are looking for in a director is someone who engages. You can have a business leader with the best résumé in the world on your board, but if they don’t show up to the meetings or they don’t help at the events or advise you on the programs or have time to connect you to donors, then they are a little more than an empty chair and a flashy name on the website.

Also, you need to remember that you were nominated for a reason. The staff and existing board members have identified some admirable skills that you have, and they have a need for those skills on their board. Maybe you have been a great leader on a subcommittee, or you regularly help out at events, or you are well-connected in the community, or you’re a great ambassador for the things you believe in. Whatever the reason, they have already determined that you will add great value and insights, so if you’re being asked to join the leadership team, know it’s because they already value you. And honestly, if you’re not sure why, feel free to ask them what they identified in you; that may help you see where you fit.

Your voice is needed and wanted

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard some version of “Oh, I didn’t agree with that decision from a few months ago, but I didn’t speak up then because I was new to the board and I didn’t feel like it was my place to speak up.” It’s natural when you get into a new a group to want to lay back and watch everything for a bit before you start making suggestions or asking questions, but my advice to new directors is to not do that.


My solemn advice to new directors on this subject goes something like this: “Your voice is just as valid as anyone else’s from the first minute you are in that first meeting. If you agree with something or, more importantly if you disagree with something, you need to speak up. That’s why we asked you to be in the room in the first place.” We have never been weakened by someone making a sound, reasonable opinion that disagreed with others. It’s often then that we can craft a better message that is inclusive of all views. Speak up.

Ask questions often

No executive director or board president could ever possibly prepare a new director for every topic that will be brought up or every procedural piece to board meetings. If you’re ever confused by a discussion, a procedure, jargon or what the board’s role is in making this decision, please ask. You can’t adequately participate if you don’t know what’s being discussed or why it’s being discussed — so just ask.

A great piece I instituted on one of my boards was a “no acronym” rule at meetings with new directors. Too often we speak in shorthand because those who have discussed this topic before know the acronyms. However, it can exclude new directors from engaging. I usually say when this happens, anyone can simply say “acronym” while the speaker is speaking, and then the speaker clarifies the acronym before moving on. It seems clunky, but it works.

Watch, look and listen

Though we want you to engage in the discussions, boards are a great place to see other business leaders in action, too. I can’t tell you how many tips I have picked up watching board members with different opinions come to a compromise position and how they respectfully listened to each other’s points. From these active discussions you can further enhance your own leadership toolkit to use in your business. It’s never mentioned but so useful.

You are an ambassador

Do know that with any new level of leadership, some people will tie your identity as being representative of the organization. If you’re kind, they will see the organization as kind. If you project other values, they will see that, too. There is a responsibility in that but also an opportunity. Every time a director and member make a lasting connection, it enhances the organization that much more. We’re proud to have you as our ambassadors.

Cory King is executive director of the Bath-Brunswick Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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