For years, I’ve been a proud NYRA-member, voting in every election. But only after I began working in NYRA’s office, first as Campaign Manager, then as Executive Director, did I see the qualities that make a good board member. I used to think it was important to elect candidates who shared my vision for the world and my vision of the strategy NYRA should follow in pursuit of that dream.

Now I realize that’s the least important thing about a director.

Yes, our directors set our policies and lay out our strategies, but it would self-defeating for an organization to significantly change its vision and its strategy every year as soon as a new board of directors is seated.

The most important function of the board of directors, the most important role of each director, is to give the organization the resources it needs to thrive. Board members give financial resources through fundraising and they give human resources through volunteer work. Without these resources, the organization becomes too weak to follow any strategy. Without people willing to roll up their sleeves and work – raising funds, organizing campaigns, planning our Annual Meeting, writing our newsletter, maintaining our website – without that, it’s not a real board of directors at all, it’s just a social club with fancy titles.

This year, our BOD was overwhelmed with people who gave us many great ideas but little work and little money. As a result, NYRA suffered significant setbacks. We now have a smaller budget and a smaller staff than we enjoyed a year ago. We have organized fewer campaigns and enjoyed less success. Even our Annual Meeting this year may not measure up to previous years. And all those great ideas our board members brought us add up to nothing more than, at most, an interesting conversation, one we might have had just as easily on the forums while leaving a different BOD to keep NYRA running.

In 2012, more than ever, NYRA needs talented and committed directors to get us back on our feet. This year when I vote, I won’t care about who’s a progressive and who’s a libertarian. I won’t look at who’s a radical and who’s a moderate. I couldn’t care less about charisma or style. I’ll be looking instead at who has helped this organization in the past, and who is most likely to help us in the months ahead. I’ll be looking for a professional attitude and a serious commitment to this organization. Most importantly, I’ll be looking for candidates who can commit to helping NYRA succeed even when NYRA follows a strategy that is not theirs. That commitment is the duty of any board member in any nonprofit. When you cannot faithfully perform that duty, you step down and make room for someone who can.

When I moved across the country and took my job in NYRA’s office, the organization had broken into factions, and I had no idea which faction would prevail. I did not know if NYRA would be a moderate organization or a radical one. But I moved out here determined to help NYRA either way. I knew that, whatever opinion prevailed on our board, NYRA would remain the most important organization in the youth rights movement, and I knew that the youth rights movement deserved to succeed.

We need a BOD that understands that as well. Elect one for us this year, and I promise you NYRA will get back on its feet and charge ahead giving America’s youth the movement they deserve. Success is still within our reach. Let’s grab it.

-Bill Bystricky