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4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Joining a Board 4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Joining a Board
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4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Joining a Board

Jo Eisenhart •  June 7, 2016 | Business and Careers

MI24084-JeffOne of the most rewarding choices you can make is to serve on a board of directors. Participation on a board gives you a unique opportunity to share your skills and expertise to help an organization overcome its challenges, increase its value, elevate its public profile and—in the case of a nonprofit—raise money.

But if you’re considering a board appointment, you’ll be expected to make a meaningful contribution. So make sure you know what you’re in for and how you can make it a beneficial experience for everyone involved. It may be helpful to ask yourself these four questions:

1. Why do I want a board position? If you’re thinking about joining a nonprofit board, you’re probably passionate about what the organization stands for. And that’s fantastic. But what exactly do you expect to gain by serving on the board? For some people, volunteering to serve on a nonprofit board allows them to achieve many goals simultaneously, such as advancing the mission of an organization they care about, meeting other like-minded professionals and gaining board experience.

If your goal is to join a corporate board, you may have different reasons for getting involved. If you’re a senior leader in your company, your CEO may encourage you to participate on a board to expose you to other business models. Or you may have been recruited to bring a unique skill the board is lacking. If you’re actively seeking a position, you may view public board service as an opportunity to network with other professionals, increase your understanding of an industry or benefit financially, since corporate board positions are almost always paid.

In either case—nonprofit or corporate—know what you want to gain from the experience. An opportunity to learn a new industry or skill? Prestige or pay? The opportunity to give back to your community or profession?

2. How will I get connected? Companies that offer paid board positions want highly qualified people, and they often turn to executive search firms. So a recruiter may seek you out, or you may consider paying a professional search firm to find you a board position. You could also network with individuals who are already on the board of a company that interests you to learn about the skills needed and, assuming you have the skills, whether they would sponsor you for the role.

If you’re interested in joining a nonprofit board, let people know you’re interested since these board appointments are often made through referrals. Someone who’s well connected in the community may know of organizations looking for board members. Or, if you know someone who already works for the nonprofit whose board you want to join, ask him or her to make an introduction.

3. Am I prepared for the commitment? Participation on a board takes time and effort, and new board members tend to underestimate both. So when considering a board appointment, ask for details about what’s expected of you, and be honest with yourself about whether you can meet those expectations.

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During the interview process (yes, you’ll be interviewed), ask how the board works, how often it meets and the average amount of time you’ll need to commit between meetings. If you were recruited to the position, ask why you were chosen. Ask about the board’s priorities, too, and look for ways to connect its goals with the skills and expertise you can bring to the table. Think of the interview as a two-way street; you both want to make sure you’re a good fit.

4. Should I tell my employer? Many companies have policies about employee board participation. And even if your employer doesn’t have a stated policy, it’s a good idea to let your boss know so that potential conflicts of interest can be addressed in advance. This is especially true if you’re considering a paid position on a corporate board. Does that company do business with your employer? Is there a chance that your involvement will lead to perceived unfair influence? In that case, your employer’s legal team—and perhaps even the CEO—will likely want to sign off on the appointment.

The stakes won’t be nearly as high if you’re looking to voluntarily serve on a nonprofit board, but it’s still a good practice to let you employer know. That will help, for example, if you need to ask for schedule flexibility to be able to attend the meetings.  It also shows that you are interested in gaining new experiences and contributing to valuable causes, both of which can raise your boss’s view of your potential.

Joining a board can be a great way to give back to your community, share your skills and expertise, grow your professional network and enhance your resume. But if you’re considering a board appointment, remember that they’re counting on you to make a meaningful contribution. So make sure you’re well informed about what’s expected and prepared for the commitment.

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