The real deal on how to join a Board

Posted March 10, 2011 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

If joining a not-for-profit or corporate board is on your career to-do list, then keep reading.  On March 9th, we hosted one of our intimate and interactive PowerRoundtable sessions and got an indepth and inside look at the strategy/tactics and considerations that you need to take to get in the Board game.  Guest panellists David Anderson (The Anderson Governance Group), Sharon Ranson (The Ranson Group) and Holly Henderson (Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation) shared their best tips and here’s a roundup for those who weren’t able to snag one of our limited seats. 

  1. Be clear on your purpose and value… Know why you’re interested in joining a Board and be clear on what you can bring to the table.
  2. Start smaller… Consider joining a committee to get your foot in the door of a Board. It’s a great place to build your reputation for future opportunities.
  3. Be passionate about the cause… charitable Board work in particular can be very involved…especially if the agency is unstaffed.  Be sure you feel great about the cause.
  4. Who you know definitely helps and be ready to be patient… joining a Board next month isn’t likely.  Nurture your relationships over the long-term and be patient with the process.
  5. “Nose in, hands out”… always take a look at the structure of the board and at the management team.  You’ll be relying on them, so you need to have confidence in their abilities.
  6. Give it, get it or get out!… don’t kid yourself.  Charitable Board members are the chief fundraisers.  Make sure you are willing to donate your time and money.
  7. Try before you buy… spend some time with the current board of directors and the management team.  Try to understand what the organization’s history and culture are like.
  8. Clarify expectations for you and the Board… what do they need you to do and how does that align with what you want to do?  What is the time commitment?
  9. Get your employer on board… If you’re working fulltime, make sure your employer is supportive.  If a key staff member quits, Board members can find themselves knee deep in recruiting.  Major controversies (think the Toronto Humane Society or recently TDHC debacle) can demand lots of extra hours. 
  10. Be realistic… the opportunity to join a major corporate board (eg: a big bank) is unlikely unless you are a former CEO of a large company.  And fees for directorships in smaller corporations in quite nominal.  Unless you’re juggling 4 or 5 corporate seats, Directorships won’t make you rich.
  11. Don’t eat more than you can chew… for a fulltime employee, one board is probably more than enough to juggle.
  12. Get educated… know your fiduciary responsibilities.  Altruvest offers grassroots programs for those interested in joining small and medium sized charitable boards.  The ICD program is suitable for people who want to get on larger corporate boards.

There was so much more (attendees… feel free to add your favourite tips!).  On April 6th, we’ll be welcoming former Mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson, CEO of Women’s Post Media to our View from the C-Suite forum.  Sarah’s going to share with us the inside scoop on the parallels between running for public office and heading up a successful business.  Hope to see you then.

Happy leading!


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