Earlier this month, I shared some ways that serving on a non-profit board in the last year has helped my career. I thought that it was only fitting to move onto some strategies for getting yourself onto a board. First of all (and most importantly), get the idea out of your head that there is one route to join a nonprofit board of directors! As I mentioned in my previous post, I was asked to join the national board of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network after working as a pro-bono fundraising advisor to the National Director for more than six months and at no point during that time had I given any thought to the possibility of getting onto the board. With all of that said, here are three steps that you can take today to get yourself onto a nonprofit board:
Identify your strengths and key skill sets
When most nonprofit boards are engaged in recruiting new members, they tend to do so with specific skills and/or perspectives that are needed. By taking the time to identify your own strengths and skill sets, you can be ready to respond to organizations seeking someone like you. One resource that I found helpful in this regard was the strengths profile that you can create at ViaMe.org. I also think that a little self-awareness is helpful in getting a feel for the culture of a board and whether you would be a good fit.
Determine the type of organizations with which you want to be affiliated
After you have a solid grasp of your strengths and skill sets, you should give some serious thought to the types of organizations you want to support as a board member. One key question that may help this process could be “What groups do you currently give money or volunteer for?” Remember that as a board member, you have fiduciary (read: financial) and legal responsibility for the organization as one of its leaders. As I tell people who want to get into fundraising (which is also an important responsibility of board members), you should focus on organizations where you have a passion for the mission and work, as you will be expected to give your time, talent and treasure to this organization. This passion will be needed to keep you going through committee meetings, interviews for senior leaders, fundraising events and the many other things you’ll be doing as a board member.
Put yourself out there, then keep your eyes and ears open
Now that you know your strengths and the kinds of organizations you want to serve, it’s time to put yourself out there! Here are a few ways to explore potential board opportunities.
- Reach out directly. If there are specific organizations whose board you would be interested in joining, you should get introduced to or introduce yourself to the executive leadership or a board member and share your interest; who knows, you may be reaching out as they are looking to expand their board. If they aren’t try volunteering with the organization, outside of board capacity. Volunteering is a great way to learn more about the organization, get to know the staff, and be the first to know about potential opportunities.
- Let your network know. Whether or not you have specific groups in mind, you should take some advice from former Silicon Valley CEO Heidi Roizen: “Don’t believe you don’t have to work at it; you have to make it easy for people to connect the dots.” After deciding that she wanted to pursue a seat on a corporate board, she sent 150 e-mails to people in her network — some who were on the boards of companies that funded her tech venture, other corporate executives, recruiters and friends — to share her interest. While her experience is focusing on corporate boards, the key is to make it easy for people to find you and you start by letting people know you want a board position.
- Look online. Take full advantage of sites like Idealist that regularly have postings for prospective board members and others including BoardServeNYC (a service of the United Way of New York City), LinkedIn, and boardnetUSA that allow you to post a profile to be matched with or viewed by nonprofit groups seeking board members.
- Be open to alternatives. If you aren’t ready for a formal board position or one just simply isn’t available, consider junior boards. And, as I stated earlier, it’s never too early or too late to get involved with an organization you care about. Offer to volunteer or take on pro-bono projects, as I did with the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network.
About The Author | Dan is the Assistant Director of Development, Individual Giving at International House, a residential learning community primarily for international graduate students pursuing their studies in the Greater New York region. In this role, he oversees the annual fund, major gifts and planned giving portfolios. Dan blogs about fundraising and non-profit management issues at The Good Steward.