The idea of women on Boards of Directors is a topic of high interest when we talk about the differences between men and women in the corporate sphere. In the corporate sector in the United States, only 16% of Board seats are held by women. However, to advance their careers and become more well-versed with Board service, many women choose to find and serve on a nonprofit Board of Directors where 43% of seats across the United States nonprofit sector Boards are held by women.
Perhaps you’ve thought about joining a Board or even been asked to join a specific Board and unsure of whether or not to proceed. Today, we’ll walk through finding the right Board of Directors for you in the nonprofit sector and what you should be aware of when joining a Board. Whether nonprofit service or career networking is your goal, joining a nonprofit Board can be terrific experience for eventually joining a corporate Board and busting out of that 16% we’re seeing for women in that sector.
First, how do you find the right Board of Directors for you?
- Pursue your natural interests first. Perhaps you’ve been a volunteer for an organization in the past or peripherally been involved with a cause you care about. Think about causes that resonate with you. Has someone in your family been affected by an illness or specific ailment whose nonprofit cause you might be interested in? Are you passionate about work with children or animals or adults in need? Joining a Board of Directors where you don’t have passion for their mission will make assimilation with the Board and excitement about the cause difficult for you. Find something where your interests align.
- Volunteer first. Calling an organization and saying “I want to join your Board” isn’t always the best way to get involved. While some Boards of Directors do have very specific interview processes, it’s best to test out your time with the organization before making a commitment to become a Board member. Volunteer at a one-day opportunity or join a committee before making your final decision.
- Get to know staff and other Board members. Once you’ve found an organization you might be interested in, reach out directly to their Board members and staff and schedule in-person meetings. Ask them questions about time commitments, fundraising commitments, the main focus of the Board of Directors, interaction with staff, and other things you might want to know about the organization.
- Ask friends where they serve or which organization they’re passionate about. Especially if you’re new to an area, it may be helpful to find reputable organizations through friends or family. Connections with current volunteers are great ways to get involved.
Next, what should you know when joining a Board for the first time?
- The most important question you need to know before joining a Board is this – what is the Board’s primary purpose? Some Boards exist 100% to represent the financial best interests of the organization and to supervise the Executive Director. Other Boards are purely fundraising Boards, existing to further the organizations development and marketing goals. Be sure you understand expectations of you before you join.
- No matter the Board, there is likely some financial expectation. Be willing to admit 1) how much money you are willing to personally commit each year and 2) how much money Board members commit on average. Many organizations publish an explicit “give or get” that could be anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000, depending on the size, scope, and type of organization. Be sure to have these commitments outlined with yourself, your partner if necessary, and explicit with Board leadership.
- Outline specifically your time commitment and stick with it. If the Board service you’re pursuing recommends 10 hours per month, set that time aside. If it recommends 5 hours a week, set that time aside. And be diligent with that time. It’s easy to be excited about a Board in January and then forget what you’re supposed to do by mid-year. Book time on your calendar for your Board just as you would any other project.
- Get a “pet project” on the Board. Many Boards split their Board of Directors into committees, which will give you an immediate project-based focus on the Board. But if your Board doesn’t do this, work with other Board members and staff to create a project you can become involved in more directly and make an impact on. It’s much easier to give time when the time requested is specific and measurable.
When you find and join a Board of Directors, you will find that this type of service can be some of the most rewarding in your career. Being able to use the skill set you’ve built throughout your career to contribute to an organization whose mission you admire is key to advancing your career and expanding your network. You’ll make friends on the Board, you’ll learn about individuals involved with the organization, and you’ll likely learn a great deal about yourself. But it’s definitely a commitment bigger than something you’ve ever experienced before, and you have to be comfortable with the fact that this organization is counting on you and expecting you to fulfill your commitments.