Many people think you have to be wealthy and have decades of work experience to join a board. You don’t.
Get on board with getting on a board.
At just 26, Hilarey Wojtowicz had already landed her first board spot — at New York Women in Communications, a networking organization for female communications professionals. “I had a long list of career goals, one of them was wanting to be on a board, but I did not think it would happen in my 20s,” the now 27-year-old New Jersey resident tells Moneyish.
Still, when a spot opened up on the board last year, Wojtowicz, who’d been an active an member for years, went for it, showing the current board all the ways she could help boost membership and improve events. It worked — and Wojtowicz says she loves it because she gets to “really have a stake in an organization I care about.” And there are plenty of other perks too, she adds, including great networking opportunities and the fact that she believes it helped her land her current job as a career editor: “It’s really valuable in [job] interviews. Companies see value in having someone on a board.”
In addition to helping you get involved with a company or cause you care about, being on a board can boost your career big-time even beyond just networking and bragging rights, experts say. Sitting on a board can give you needed skill sets, like leadership and business development, explains Patricia Lenkov, the founder and president of executive search firm Agility Executive Search, who has conducted hundreds of board searches for companies — which may be why many companies encourage their senior leaders to do it. (There’s now even a startup, CariClub, that contracts with large companies like Deloitte and Morgan Stanley to place their employees on boards.)
But those of us who aren’t rich, older and well-connected often think we don’t have a shot at joining a board. Turns out now is a better time than ever for young people, women, people of color and early-to-mid career people to get a spot on a board, experts say.
“Boards are looking for diversity, for millennials,” says Lenkov — as these groups may help them better connect with a younger, more diverse customer base, help with things like social media and technology, and more. What’s more, many nonprofits have even created associate or junior boards, explicitly for early-to-mid career people, says CariClub founder Rhoden Monrose. “These associate boards are a conduit for future board members,” he says. And Larry Lieberman, who became a board member for the young-adult suicide prevention organization JED Foundation at 40, says that these associate/junior boards are often cheaper to join (sometimes you just have to pony up $500) and may be less time consuming than a full-fledged board membership.
So how do you get on a board even if you’re still young, not an executive and not all that wealthy? One simple way is to become a member of the organization, prove yourself as invaluable and apply for the board position as it comes up, says marketing expert Michelle Ngome. It’s usually also essential to have skills that the organization is looking for, says Lieberman — which could include anything from marketing and communications to fundraising or business development.
Be prepared to pony up some money: Some nonprofit boards require big funds, others — especially associate and junior boards — might require nothing or just $500 or so; you may also be able to fundraise in lieu of a fat donation. (Corporate boards tend to pay their board members — often more than six figures — but because of this they’re often harder to get on.) And Ngome notes that you should factor in clothing, makeup, hair and other things if you’re on the board for an organization with a lot of galas, for example.
Bottom line: “Joining a board is pretty easy unless you want to be paid for your service,” says Erica McCurdy, a certified coach at LunaNav. “Most smaller nonprofits actively look for people with interest in board service, so mentioning a desire to serve will often be enough to start the conversation.” You can also look at a site like Bridgespan.org for board postings, recommends Lenkov.
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