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Don't Join a Board Until You Read This

Our firm has a strong coaching program, and as a result I’ve had the opportunity to coach several of our young professionals. One thing I am regularly asked is “should I join a board”. There is no doubt that joining a board can provide excellent learning opportunities, a chance to meet other individuals in the community, to volunteer for a wonderful organization, and it looks great on a resume. So, should you join a board? Yes, but only if it’s the right board.  

Joining a board is a big commitment; there are things you should consider:

1. What are you hoping to get out of it?

Are you hoping to gain leadership or governance experience? Are you looking for something hands-on that provides operational experience? Knowing what your motivation is will help you pick the right board. I didn’t have a clear goal before I joined my first board, and though I learned a lot, the main thing I learned was that it wasn’t the right board for me. I could gotten more out of my experience if I had understood what I wanted and waited for the right board to join.

2. What skills or experience can you provide?

Are you good at finances? Do you have experience with fundraising or event planning? Are you a super organized person? Are you creative or a wordsmith? Knowing what you can bring to a board will help you identify one that will utilize and appreciate your skills. One word of caution; don’t get trapped doing something that will not help you grow or provide your true value. For example, if one of the young CPA’s I coach is doing the bookkeeping for the board-run organization, their skills are being underutilized. They should be reviewing the financial results and helping the board use it as a tool for strategic planning.  

3. How much time do you have to dedicate to the organization?

Be realistic about how much time you can (and are willing) to give. If the answer is little to none, now is not the right time to commit to being a part of the board. Remember that operational boards require a bigger commitment than governance boards. Don’t be the member that never seems to make a meeting or accomplish tasks agreed upon. Remember, it’s ok to say no.

4. Are you passionate about the organizations cause?

When I joined my first board I felt like I had a responsibility to be on one, and I picked the first opportunity that came along. I invested a lot of time on a cause that, while important, I personally had no passion for. The older I get the more I realize how valuable and limited my time is. If I’m going to volunteer some of my precious time, it has to be on something I truly care about. If it is not an organization or cause that you are interested in, you will likely not be an engaged member of the board. Wait for the right opportunity. 

Giving your time and talents to a cause you believe in and working with other community-minded people can be a very rewarding experience. Do you research, be patient, know yourself, and the right board member position will make the commitment worthwhile.

To find out more about not-for-profit boards, governance, and leadership, talk to our NFP group today.

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