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Tips for Get on Board: Inside the Board of Directors
by Theresa E. Singleton, PhD
April 7, 2011
If you are passionate about a cause, serving on the board of directors of a nonprofit or even for-profit organization can be a great way to position yourself to accomplish your goals. At a recent WEST event, a panel of seasoned board members offered advice and shared their experiences. WEST Executive Director Ilene Fischer moderated the panel which included:
Finding Your passion
Working for a cause that you are passionate about was a recurrent theme throughout the evening. If you are to devote your free time to service on a board, particularly for a nonprofit organization, you must have a keen interest in their mission. This will allow you to remain excited and driven. Visit the organization to get a sense for the culture and the type of work that they do. Determine whether the organization’s mission aligns with your passion: is it a place where you can make a difference? Think about what role you might play on the board. The panel members agreed that the experience is well worth it if you are passionate about the work.
Some important skills that you will use as a board member include strategic thinking and planning (e.g. knowing how and when to sell an idea), effective negotiation, the ability to influence/persuade others, and the ability to manage up, down, and across. Because there is no day-to-day interaction, the ability to build good group dynamics was stressed, especially if you are the chair of the board. If you enjoy team work and group problem solving, working on a board of directors will be a natural fit.
Things to Consider
When selecting a board for service, the panel recommended doing your due diligence to thoroughly vet the organization. This should include examining the organization’s financial statement, stability (e.g. employee turnover), and governance. Ask about the obligations of board members (e.g. term limits, expected donations). You should determine who the board members are – can you work with and learn from them? Ask yourself if you would be challenged as a board member and would you be able to help move the organization forward in its mission.
In conclusion, the panel recommended some helpful resources for getting started including The Boston Club, which has board placement programs for both nonprofit and for-profit organizations. BoardSource and Independent Sector are also great resources.
For more valuable insight into serving on a Board of Directors, see 57 Tips on Board Service by Susan C. Hammond
*The WEST panel discussion “Get on Board: Inside the Board of Directors“ was held on April 7, 2011 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Click Here for more information.