You might be surprised to learn how easy it is to advance your career by serving on a board of directors. Many small nonprofits welcome volunteers to their boards with open arms, while others offer the opportunity to work your way up the ladder to a board position. Nonprofit board service can lead to a for-profit corporate board of directors position later in your career, which can be a high-profile and lucrative career goal.
Board of Directors
A board of directors is a group of individuals who oversee the responsible operation of a for-profit or nonprofit corporation. In some cases, boards set goals and offer direction to paid managers who run the day-to-day operations of the business. At many small nonprofits, board members do the hands-on work to run the organization. If you are interested in serving on a nonprofit board, visit the organization’s website and look for a copy of its bylaws, which detail the role of the board and explain how members are elected or appointed.
Nonprofit Board Qualifications
Depending on the size of the nonprofit, the qualifications for service can be as simple as offering to serve or may require significant business experience. Large, national charities and trade associations seek out board members with extensive corporate experience, connections to potential corporate donors or high-profile name recognition. A local animal shelter or women’s association may look for board members with an interest or specific experience with the nonprofit’s mission; hands-on skills; and a network of strong contacts. In some instances, organizations will take any dedicated warm body who wants to work. For example, if you have no nonprofit or board experience but have bookkeeping skills, many nonprofit boards will be happy to have you as a treasurer.
For-Profit Board Qualifications
Because of the money at stake, for-profit boards require more experience in board members. The role of the board is to oversee the financial health of the corporation, rather than to micromanage the business’ marketing, human resources or sales efforts. The board of a small organization might include the business’ owners or family members, who also run the operations of the business. At large corporations, board members must bring specific expertise in finance, the industry, legislation or the law. A director-at-large often has no responsibilities other than to stay informed about the organization’s operations and vote. Those board members often move up the ladder in subsequent years after they learn more about the organization.
If you are interested in serving on a board of directors, your best bet might be to get experience serving on the board of a small nonprofit. This will let you see how nonprofits hold board meetings, take notes and fulfill their nonprofit charters. Another option is to join a professional association and get involved. At a trade association, start by volunteering to serve on a committee; help out with an event; write articles for its newsletter; or speak at a seminar or meeting. Network with other members, including board and committee members, at the association’s meetings and social events. Learn what it takes to move up the ladder and start taking the steps to do so.
Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.