Getting on Boards: What you need to know before you raise your hand

Posted April 9, 2012 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

On April 4th, we hosted an encore presentation of our highly popular “Getting on Boards” PowerRoundtable.  An at-capacity audience joined our panelists with opinions Sharon Ranson (The Ranson Group), Holly Henderson (Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation) and David Anderson  (The Anderson Group) for an indepth discussion on volunteerism and Board work.  For those who missed it, here were some of the highlights captured by our intrepid team of member table facilitators on what you need to think about before you raise your hand to volunteer:

It’s lots of work, so you better love it… sure, being asked to participate on a Board can be ego flattering and may build lots of career connections for you, but if you don’t love the cause and the organization, it may turn into more of a grind than you’d like.

Know two crucial skills… to participate at the Board level, in addition to the expertise you’re bringing to the table, you’ll need a basic understanding of financial statements and some sense of board governance.  It’s important to know your role and responsibilities.

Do your due diligence… before jumping on board, make sure the fit is there for you.  Take a close look at the dynamics of the board, the decision-making process, the stage of the organization’s life cycle (newer organizations will be far more hands on than more established ones), and the overall culture.  Board leadership is very different than organizational leadership, so make sure the group you’re joining is one you can work with.

Check out the Chair… the Board Chairperson is a pivotal role.  Get to know that individual and their leadership style before committing to the group.  And, if you fear that your Chair has Machiavellian tendencies, step down quickly and, if you’re brave enough, do what you can to blow the whistle on their behaviour.

Flex your collaboration muscle… Boards are a collective leadership group with each member having equal vote.  Unlike corporate leadership where you may get away with a “my way or the highway” approach, Board work will require you to flex your consensus-building and collaborative muscles.  It’s a great place to learn leadership via informal influence.

It’s who you know… Board members are given a great deal of responsibility and therefore, members want to feel comfortable and trust those who are sitting around the table with them.  Most Board referrals come from existing relationships and word-of-mouth referrals.  Leverage your network to get a shot at a Board post.

Work your way up… if you don’t have any existing Board member friends and would like to make your way onto a Board, start with a committee.  This will allow others to see you in action and help you become the “known entity” you need to be to get considered for a Board post.

Education is advised… whether you look at BoardMatch, ICD or other organizations, our panel recommended additional training to help you get ready for your Board responsibilities.  It won’t guarantee you a post on a Board, but it will help you know what you’re doing when you get to the table.

Volunteerism is a wonderful way to genuinely give back, share your expertise and continue to challenge yourself.  You’ll build incredible relationships and have the opportunity to truly make a difference to the organization and the people you’re supporting.

If you’re interested in getting on a Board or other volunteer positions, check out Altruvest’s BoardMatch service or Charity Village for resources and listings.

Happy leading!


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