Planning Your Next Career Move? Don’t Forget to Join a Nonprofit Board
As the Executive Director of BoardAssist, I receive a steady stream of inquiries and referrals from job coaches nearly every day. Why? Because it’s their job to help you find yours, and nonprofit board service gives you an edge. What exactly are those benefits?
Board Membership Benefits
There are several advantages to joining a board, but one of the primary benefits becomes apparent the moment the selection process begins and well before a final decision is made.
Think about it. What happens when you put your resume forward for consideration? If your CV is attractive, you’ll have the chance to meet and network with a lot of high-impact folks, since they’re the ones who comprise the majority of nonprofit board membership. On average, our candidates are typically introduced to at least three different organizations and meet at least three people on each board. That’s nine new, high-impact people you’ve added to your little black networking book at the outset of the process—with no strings attached.
As someone who works with hundreds of boards on a yearly basis, I’d argue that these contacts are particularly outstanding and especially worthwhile, with few exceptions. Individuals who donate their time to nonprofits in this capacity tend to be just as generous about helping others, be they fellow board members or those who benefit directly from the services the group provides. These new connections represent a win-win scenario: great people with great networks, who will gladly use their network to help you.
Another terrific bonus of board service is that it often creates an opportunity for members to learn a new skill or hone an old one. A job seeker who’s short on substantive leadership experience may soon find he’s able to update his resume with a description of the committee he ran, along with a detailed account of its objectives, goals and achievements. Interestingly enough, we’ve worked with many candidates over the years whose decision to switch careers was the direct result of their board service; they were challenged in ways that were wholly different from the demands of their “day jobs” and ultimately realized this newer role was the one that resonated more.
Ready to Join a Board? Keep These Things in Mind
An estimated 1.8 million nonprofit board seats open up in this country every year—there’s little difficulty in finding a board to join and no shortage of nonprofits in need. The question that matters most is: “What’s the best fit for you?” I spend the majority of my day trying to help our candidates find that perfect match, on a no-fee basis since BoardAssist too is a nonprofit organization.
If you plan to navigate this process solo—and prefer it that way— download our primer, Giving Back, to read up on what to consider before joining a board.
If you’re pursuing board service as a means of broadening your professional network, bear the following things in mind:
1. Most nonprofit boards require board members to commit to a certain level of annual monetary contributions. (See Giving Back for a full discussion of this.) If, after three interviews, you discover a board’s expectations do not fit your budget, you will have wasted both their time and yours. Be sure you have an understanding of the full amount you are expected to give personally and raise from others (the “give/get”) before entering into serious discussions with a particular board.
2. There is great temptation to join a board under the assumption you’ll be able to meet its financial commitment by the time the gift is due. However, there’s no greater way to create conflict than by joining a board and falling short soon thereafter. Don’t commit to a give/get you’re not 100% certain you can meet.
3. Many candidates are concerned that their contributions of time and intellectual capital will always be overshadowed by money. If you’ve done a good job of finding the right board, that should not happen. Do your research: Why is the board adding now? Has there been frequent turnover? If so, a lack of balance between financial and personal contributions is often the culprit. At a minimum, find out what current and previous board members have done besides generating capital.
4. Candidates who are eager to join a board for networking purposes mistakenly assume that organizations with recognizable names and large budgets are a sure thing and their best bet. In fact, the opposite is often true. BoardAssist worked with a tiny education reform nonprofit a few years ago with no brand name, yet the board was comprised of a “who’s who” of Fortune 100 C-suite executives. The opportunity to work closely with an intimate group of business leaders offers much better networking potential than simply signing on to an enormous board with a household name.
5. Make sure you’re passionate about the board’s mission before you commit. While this seems elementary, it’s a criterion that is often overlooked by too many candidates we meet. If the nonprofit’s purpose doesn’t inspire you, your lack of enthusiasm will inevitably show through and you’ll find it challenging to garner support among new friends.You must be inspired by, and feel connected to, the organization’s purpose in order to be successful.
6. Many of the boards we partner with have tremendous networking potential, yet they’re not loaded with major New York power brokers. Look beyond the obvious and, chances are, you’ll find their spouses—joining a board with someone who has the ear of an influencer may get you farther than you realize. Be sure to thoroughly investigate everyone on the board you’re exploring, whether or not their names are instantly recognizable to you.
7. Last, but certainly not least: once you join, make it count. You’ll enjoy your service the most as an engaged, reliable advocate of change. Fellow board members will seek out your opinions, and they will matter. Be a superstar.
It’s not an easy time for those in the job market right now. We wish all job hunters the best of luck and hope you’ll reach out to BoardAssist if you’re interested in the nonprofit world and finding a perfect nonprofit board seat. Joining a board can very well give you the edge you need—but the pride gained from helping others truly can’t be quantified.