How to Get On A Board of Directors
One of the first things you need to know about Boards is that there is a difference between serving on the board of a nonprofit company or organization and serving on the board of a for-profit company or organization. The nonprofit board position is almost always an un-paid, volunteer position and may even require you to make a financial or additional time commitment to the organization. A board position on a for-profit board is often a paid position with the compensation varying depending on the size and profitability of the company. Executives and professionals often volunteer for non-profit boards during their career as a way of contributing to a favorite cause, community or industry. This is a great way to give back, have an impact and meet great people. It is also good experience for being recruited to for-profit boards later in your career. For-profit boards are much more selective. Many executives choose to participate on these boards post-retirement as a way of continuing to be involved, using their experience and knowledge, and earning income.
This article will focus on the best way to find and get on a nonprofit board. Your level of interest, passion, energy and, above all, commitment to the cause and purpose of the organization are the most important factors here. Participating in an organization at the board level should be fulfilling to you and beneficial to the organization.
Don’t think that because you haven’t managed a company or don’t have a financial background that you will not be able to contribute on a board. The strength of a board is in the diversity of perspectives that it provides the Board Chair and the Executive that it works with. Whether your strength is in management, sales, operations, human resources, financial, project management or connecting and relating to people, there is a spot on a board for you. Non-profits are appreciative of this level of commitment and interest. You will be collaborating with like-minded people who also value what the organization offers. Be prepared to meet some amazing people, make fast friends and have a great time making a difference in a meaningful way.
Finding a Rewarding Board Position:
Boards that you participate on should align with your personal interests and passions and there are opportunities everywhere. Look at how and where you spend time, what interests you and what your core values are. Express your interest in becoming involved to the people you know. Getting the word out there may be all that you need to make opportunities happen. You can also visit web sites like Boardsource.org, Bridgespan.org and Volunteermatch.org as well as LinkedIn.com and Indeed.com.
Becoming involved in the organization is key. You should attend organization events, get to know people, and volunteer to help out in any way you can.
It is important that you understand:
- The values and mission of the organization
- The issues confronting the business or organization
- The strengths of the organization and what it has to offer
- The needs of those who benefit from or are serviced by the organization
- The political and economic environment that the organization exists in
- The culture and work ethic of the organization
- The basics of being a non-profit, tax-exempt entity
- The responsibilities and time commitment required of the board
Once you identify a possible board opportunity, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Do my beliefs and goals align with this organization and its board?
- Will my skills and expertise help increase the impact of the organization and further its mission?
- Can I commit the time required to fulfill my legal and fiduciary responsibilities as a board member?
This last question can be intimidating. So many of us are already over-extended, but the larger the potential impact that you want to have, the higher the level of commitment you need to make. And, don’t forget that the more you give, the more you get back.
If you decide on a board or boards that you would like to participate in, make your interest known to the organization, current board members and employees and beneficiaries of the organization. Board positions generally open on an annual basis and are timed to coincide with annual meetings or conferences. Organizations look for board members who have already exhibited an interest and commitment to their purpose through volunteering at events, fundraising or making financial contributions, participating in committees… It may take a little while for you to build this level of credibility but, it will also allow you to further evaluate the organization and whether it lives up to its public statements and runs in a way that you agree with. There is a lot to be said for chemistry here. Like any relationship, it’s a two-way street requiring mutual respect, common objectives and common values.
If you are a member of an ethnic minority or are a woman, boards may seek you out. As I stated earlier, the strength of a board is in the diversity of its perspectives. Do not feel intimidated or worried that you may not fit it. You will be dealing with professionals who will value and respect your input. Remember that you have something to offer that others may not. The diversity issue is a real one for so many organizations who have traditionally been run by a small demographic of the population but are serving a much more diverse population. You can increase your impact by helping out these organizations. Education and awareness are half the battle.
Enjoy the journey! Attaining a board position is not something you just wake up and do in a day. It is a process and a very rewarding one. In fact, you should view the position itself as your reward for the contributions you have made. No matter what non-profit organization you choose, you will be collaborating with outstanding individuals and creating many fulfilling experiences and relationships. Best of luck in your search and thanks in advance for the contributions that you’ll be making to affect positive change in your industry, community and the world.
Books you might find helpful:
On Board – What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits and Board Service by Nanette R. Fridman The Little Book of Boards – a Board Member’s Handbook for Small (and Very Small) Non-Profits by Erik Hanberg