What first year board members should and shouldn’t do
What first year board members should and shouldn't do
Stop, look and listen! Advice for the first year board member.

Through my conversations with friends who serve on boards, we all chuckle when we think back to our freshman board experience. Most of the time, you walk into the room not knowing a single person, so it’s like the first day of middle school. 

Sage advice given to me was:


During your first year on a board, keep your trap shut...likely for an entire year....unless someone asks you a direct question or tasks you with something!

Now that I’ve served on numerous boards, I understand why.

Most boards rotate members every 1-2 years. Some have board classes with 2-3 people rolling on/off in the same time frame. Healthy board governance that I’ve experienced stipulates that board members have specific terms and only extend their terms under extenuating circumstances. As board members roll off, new members take their place, staggered across years. This way, board culture and the organization’s history get passed down through the classes. This is critical to ensure knowledge transfer as well as healthy cultural continuity and longevity. 

With new members rolling on and off, each board’s dynamic is so fluid  from year to year. Prior to joining a board, you’ve likely asked questions like:

  • How many committees are you expected to join? 
  • What’s the rapport with the CEO? 
  • How involved does the board get with the rest of the organization?

As the newbie, go deeper and take the time to get to know the personalities, working styles, and governance policies. Spend time with other board members outside of board meetings. Learn as much as you can about policies, history, board dynamics and nuances.

During your first year, you’ll most likely join a committee with more seasoned board members, so use those committee meetings as an opportunity to piece together the various decisions and strategies that have been introduced over time. Really take the time to understand the mission and vision of the organization.

After the first year, you’ll start to gain a really good feel for the board dynamics so that you can feel confident contributing in a productive manner.