In the United States alone, there are 1.5 million non-profit organizations, and most of them have this one thing in common: They seek and need the input of competent board of directors’ members to help manage, oversee and guide their efforts.
While not all non-profit organizations maintain governing boards, most do. But how can a business executive who seeks to lend a hand to the non-profit sector find and land suitable opportunities as a non-profit board of directors’ member?
In many respects, the process for landing a position on a non-profit organizational board of directors mirrors many of the same functional steps that would accompany a thorough executive job search:
#1 Define your goal with as much specificity as possible. Chances are, you have something tangible and valuable to offer a non-profit organization, but narrowing the search means clearly defining your industry, functional and other areas of expertise that can be helpful to a non-profit organization and being able to articulate those in writing and, should the opportunity emerge, in person.
#2 Share your goal with colleagues and friends. There is still nothing that brings together two parties than a shared colleague or friend, and the non-profit world operates this way as much (and maybe even more) as any other. The connections and suggestions of your colleagues and friends can cut through bureaucracy and often bring you to the appropriate non-profit organizational executives poised to discuss and act on your interest.
#3 Define your skills, areas of expertise and functional roles that can be of value to a non-profit organization. Non-profit organizations have broad expertise needs, and those areas of expertise are sought out in their selection of board members. Fundraising is paramount to nearly all non-profit organizations, and they typically seek board members who can help direct these development efforts, both in individual solicitation contacts, foundation grants and fundraising functions generally. “As government funding tightens and the economy wobbles, charities across the country continue to struggle with attracting donations and, at times, staying afloat,” Shelly Banjo of The Wall Street Journal reported a few years ago.
But boards also need support in areas of executive management, human resources, budgeting, marketing, public relations and other vital fields.
#4 Connect with executive recruiters: Many executive recruiting firms conduct searches for non-profit organizations. Among big firms, headhunting giants Korn Ferry and Witt Kieffer have an entire practice dedicated to their non-profit searches. I have several personal examples. Smaller firms like Bridgespan, Campbell and Company, DRG, and many others are executive search firms exclusively committed to staffing non-profit organizations, including boards.
#5 Don’t overextend yourself: On the surface, the work of being a non-profit director might appear limited to the organization’s periodic (usually quarterly) board meetings. But the meetings are typically just the beginning of the work. Expect organizations to call on you regularly for varied levels of support, guidance and assistance.
Being a board member is, ultimately, a serious responsibility requiring talents and expertise. It requires dedication to the organization and its associated cause, and an allocation of time and effort to it especially when your expertise becomes acknowledged by the other board members. It is not about politically correct social appearances or about a resumé beauty contest. You are likely to be asked to hire the next chairman, to fire the current managing director or to fix personnally some unpleasant situations.
Such affiliations and efforts are generally appreciated by the corporate world, and the work itself is almost always meaningful and directly impactful to communities, countries and our world as a whole. For those who can find board opportunities with non-profit organizations that meet their areas of interest and expertise, it’s usually a very mutually beneficial relationship.
My experience is that it is worth the effort and a fantastic way to give back. The personal rewards that I have got from the education board or from the local community board that I have been serving for the last 10 years have been invaluable even we had our challenges.