When I was much younger, I got the good advice to get on a few boards--non-profit and for profit--advisory and fiduciary. I naively thought it was difficult to get on boards and further that it was some type of honor. Of course there are a select number of boards that are highly coveted, but the vast majority are accessible to the qualified and the connected.
I also made the mistake of thinking that well known people were recruited on to many boards to help the organization. I learned that many of those well known people are also intentionally building even more robust networks.
Networks snow balls. The more you do the bigger and better they become.
I ask most people I meet. "What boards are you on?" It is a wonderful conversation starter and anyone who has ambitions and a vision for their community is on a board or three. I am not saying that only board members are the ones changing the world or doing work of substance. But it is very telling about what they are doing with their lives, where their priorities may lie, and to whom they are connected. My point here is board members get connected and those connections multiply. And when warm close knit connections increase, then opportunities get amplified. It is very basic networking.
People who are working together closely, who see themselves as peers, will help one another.
I estimate that 50% of the opportunities I have been given have come through my current and past board memberships. That makes it possible for me to stay on my 8 week interview diet!
Board members recruit their colleagues for other boards. This is even more true on for-profit boards. People want people with experience that they trust.
If you think a board is the way to increase your sales prospects, you are sadly mistaken. I have been on and staffed board members who are solely mercenary --only interested in their commissions. These are the worst board members.
The work of the cause, org, or company must come first. You have to show up (literally and figuratively) and become fully engaged. Your brand on the board is about your work on the board. Your great reputation and resume got you to the table, but they are meaningless potential until you deliver for the org. Yes then and only then, will opportunities for business and career follow. And your board work will enhance your resume and the cycle continues.
Find organizations you admire, deeply care about and support. That is your starting point. Among these groups you need to shop for the boards that are the most compatible with you and your life and goals. You may have to work your way up through committees or volunteering. Not always a bad thing to experience the organization from a different perspective. Test the organization before you are in charge of running it! You probably will need to be nominated--you can rarely just apply directly. There is usually a formal nominating process that will take months and in some instances years. Like all things in life you must be patient. There is no instant gratification here.
- What do you have to offer a board? Do you have the time? Are you willing to raise money and give money? Do you have other skills, talents, and experience you will offer?
- What orgs do you want to help define/direct and make more successful? Make a list of your highest priorities.
- Who do you know on those Boards or people that know those people? Get introduced to have informational interviews to explore what the organization's status and culture. What skills, background, and perspectives does the org need?
Be prepared for the democracy of a board. The balance between staff and board for control and direction. A majority of the members not pulling their weight. And the dilution of your ideas and suggestions.
But in the end, being on a board will deepen your understanding of the realities of running an org, especially a non-profit. What it takes to solve complex and intractable problems. You will be shoulder to shoulder with a new network of fascinating people who will broaden your network and your view of the world. And opportunities will follow.
If you say, "I am too busy to be on a Board." We all know the best people to ask to serve are the busy ones. Who wants to recruit someone who is idle? ;) Maybe you are not busy enough!!
Thanks for reading. John