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Planning Your Next Career Move? Don’t Forget to Join a Nonprofit Board

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.

Board membership benefits.

There are many advantages to joining a board, but one of the primary benefits becomes apparent the moment the selection process begins.

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 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 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 worthwhile. Individuals who donate their time to nonprofits 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 networks 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 she’s able to update her resume with a description of the committee she ran, along with a detailed account of its objectives, goals, and achievements.

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 one that resonated more.

[Related: Getting More Women in the Boardroom — Starting with You]

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?” 

If you’re pursuing board service as a means of broadening your professional network, bear the following things in mind:

Budget.

Most nonprofit boards require board members to commit to a certain level of annual monetary contributions. 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 board.

Commitment.

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.

Research.

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.

[Related: 5 Communications Lessons Learned Working at an Anti-Poverty Nonprofit]

Impact.

Candidates who are eager to join a board for networking purposes mistakenly assume that organizations with recognizable names and large budgets are their best bets. 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 onto an enormous board with a household name.

Passion.

Make sure you’re passionate about the board’s mission before you commit. While this seems elementary, it’s a criterion that is too often overlooked by 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. In order to be successful, you must be inspired by, and feel connected to, the organization’s purpose.

Influence.

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.

Engagement.

Last, but certainly not least: Once you join, make it count. You’ll enjoy your service most as an engaged, reliable advocate of change. Fellow board members will seek out your opinions, and they will matter. Be a superstar.

[Related: Giving in the Digital Age]

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Cynthia Remec is the Executive Director and founder of BoardAssist. Ms. Remec has been quoted or profiled in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Financial Times, Crain’s New York Business, and Conde Nast Portfolio, among other publications. She is the author of Giving Back, a guide to nonprofit board service.


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