How does one become a board member? By Rajive Johri
How to Get on a Board of Directors
A board of directors is a group of elected or appointed individuals who are responsible for overseeing the activities of a non-profit or business entity. Serving on a board of directors can allow you to make connections and positively impact an organization you care about.If you are interested in serving on a board of directors, then you should find organizations that interest you and ask to join.
Researching Organizations to Join
Use the internet to find a non-profit group to work with.One of the first steps you should take is to find an organization that you would like to support. Since many non-profit boards are run by volunteers, it is important that your personal values align with the organization’s. There are a number of websites that you can use to find organizations in your area. In addition to performing a basic web search, also visit the following websites:
Identify skills you have to offer.As a board member, you will be entrusted with overseeing the activities of the group as well as making policy decisions about the direction of the organization. Often, board members contribute ideas about the organization’s day-to-day activities.
- Accordingly, you should think about the skills that you have that might be useful. For example, you may have experience in public relations, marketing, and finances.You could draw on this experience as you help craft the organization’s policies and approve its vendor contracts.
- Also consider relevant work experiences and personal connections. You will want to highlight all of this information when you seek to actually join a board of directors.
Understand what character traits you need.A successful board member relies on five character traits. You should self-assess to see if you have them:
- Ability to judge others.You will need to be able to appraise the performance of company officers in your position as a board member. Think about when your ability to “size up” someone’s strengths or weaknesses made the difference.
- Willingness to raise questions.Board members must ask questions in order to understand the organization and management’s decisions.
- Collaboration skills.To effectively collaborate with other board members, you need to be able to persuade, compromise, and work as a team. You should consider how effective you are at “leading sideways” with your peers.
- Ability to earn the trust of others.The other members of the board must trust you, so you will need to be able to build bridges across differences. Think about how many of your former bosses, employees, or coworkers would consider you trustworthy.
- Emotional intelligence.The key components of emotional intelligence are empathy, knowledge, and humility. Be honest with yourself as to whether or not you possess these traits.
Consider joining a junior board.Many non-profits have created “junior boards” as a way to get younger people involved in an organization.If you do not think that your skills would warrant inclusion on a governing board, then you might want to ask if the organization has a junior board that you would be eligible for.
- Junior boards perform many of the same tasks as governing boards. For example, they engage in fundraising, organizing charity events, and volunteering. Although they are distinct from governing boards, some operate as “feeders” to the governing board and other leadership positions.
Joining the Board
Get to know the organization first.Some people don’t feel comfortable coming right out and asking for a seat on the board of directors, especially if they have never worked or volunteered for the organization before. Accordingly, you may feel more comfortable getting involved with the organization for a set amount of time before seeking a seat on the board of directors.
- Call or stop by the organization and ask if you can volunteer. Getting to know the people on the ground floor of the organization will help you should you ultimately step up onto the board of directors.If no volunteer opportunities currently exist, then leave your name and number.
Fundraise for the organization.Another great way to become acquainted with the organization is to participate in fundraising. The ability to fundraise will greatly increase your chances of being considered as a non-profit board member. Depending on the organization, fundraising may be a major board member responsibility.
- Accordingly, if you can excel at fundraising, then you will be sure to stand out as a potential board member.
Request information about the board.Not all boards are the same. Before you ask to join a board of directors, you should try to find out some information about it. Feel free to ask for copies of written board policies, bylaws, and even minutes of previous meetings.
- You could also request the organization’s tax filing. This information will reveal how much its key employees and executives earn. If you think that the payments are excessive, then you may not want to join the board.
- You can also ask current board members to grab a coffee or have lunch. You can ask what their experiences on the board of directors have been like. In particular, you can ask about how much time the board activities take, when meetings are held, and how long a board member’s term is.
Ask directly if you can join.Once you have decided that you want to join a board, you should reach out to the group to express interest. Ask about the process for joining. Some organizations simply appoint board members while others hold elections. Find out when new members can join the board.
Work through a headhunter.Large corporations seek out board members by using headhunters, just as they would to recruit someone for a key management position. The headhunters typically work for the largest search firms.
- Try to identify who at the search firms works on recruiting board members and make an appointment or schedule a lunch. At the meeting, you can talk about what would make you a more attractive candidate for a large corporate board.
Interviewing for a Board Position
Prepare.You should treat the interview process with the same seriousness that you would treat a job interview. Take out your resume and review it. Update it if necessary and make several copies.
- You also can prepare by researching the people who will be interviewing you. Ideally, you will have volunteered for the organization and therefore know many of the people on the board already. If you don’t, you can perform a basic internet search on the person, looking for information about their profession or the other boards that they serve on.
Practice answering questions.You should spend several hours preparing to answer questions about why you want to join the board as well as questions about your general life or work experience. Try to make your answers as short (but complete) as possible.
- Shorter answers will be easier to memorize, which should also make you feel more confident in the interview.
Gather evidence of your commitment to a cause.If seek to join a non-profit, then you should be able to demonstrate your involvement in whatever mission the organization has taken on.If you want to join the board of a women’s shelter, for example, then you should have evidence of your involvement with domestic abuse or women’s issues more generally.
- If you handled fundraising for another non-profit, bring any materials you used: flyers, posters, solicitation letters. The more documentary proof you have of a sincere interest and engagement, the more convincing your interest in serving on the board will appear.
Compile a list of references.You should also have the names of three people who can provide a positive reference for you. If you have served on the board of directors of another organization, then you want as a reference someone who knows the work you did for the board. Boards tend to hire the members of other boards, so showcasing this experience is beneficial.
Ask appropriate questions.Based upon your research and your experience with the organization, you should have several questions already about the board and how it is run. Be sure to write out the questions ahead of time but try to memorize them.
- Always be sure to ask if board members are expected to make contributions to the organization. This has become more common at non-profits as budgets are stretched thin.
Ask when you will hear back.Try to get a timeline for when you will receive a decision. Send a written “thank you” note as a follow-up to the interview.
Video: Here's how to get onto a corporate board I Fortune
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