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Being an active community member was never a conscious decision for me, it was just something my family did. My grandmother set the standard, she was a long serving volunteer at Lifeline, delivered meals on wheels (often to people younger than herself) and was always helping others at church or in her community. My grandfather and dad were long time CFA volunteers, often ducking out in the evenings for meetings or to help at an emergency of one sort or another.
It was however, a conscious decision to join a not-for-profit Board. Whilst I’d naturally fell into volunteering, through Rotary and other community groups, becoming a Board member required a bit more though and preparation. At that stage I’d only been in the workforce a handful of years and was quite a few years away from my first executive level role. What did I have to offer?
It turns out I had quite a bit to offer, and significantly more to gain. After sitting on several Boards, I’ve learnt it takes people with a range of life experiences to make up a robust and successful Board.
Why join a Board?
Being a Board member can be very rewarding, but it can also be a lot of work. It is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. As well as ensuring the organisation meets its legal and financial responsibilities, as a Board member we also take stewardship for the mission, the strategic vision, and the long-term planning. Add on top the regular board meetings, sub-committee meetings and other communication, why would you want to volunteer your precious time on a Board?
- Broaden your Network
Not-for-profit boards attract people with a range of business and leadership skills, all with a passion for the organisation’s mission. When you work together on issues you really care about, you build strong relationships with other Board members and the senior management team.
- Build your Corporate Governance and Strategic Skills
Depending on your (paid) role, it is sometimes difficult to get exposure to corporate governance or the strategic planning process. Being involved in those high-level discussions, provides you with an appreciation of the complex issues and decisions required to run a business. It helped me to step outside my ‘HR’ silo, to understand the interdependence of all the operational factors. This broadened my thinking both in my Board role and my day-to-day work. These skills are also highly regarded on your CV.
- Develop your Leadership and Interpersonal Skills
I’ve heard some people say that being on a Board can give you the equivalent skills as an MBA. It has certainly been a great source of ‘on-the-job’ leadership development for me. You have front row seats to observe how the CEO and other Board members interact, conduct themselves and make decisions. You are a leader in this organisation and will be expected to contribute in meetings, leverage relationships with external stakeholders and share your expertise.
- Make a Difference
Not-for-profits are usually dedicated to furthering a social cause and/or advocating for a particular cohort of people. If you are passionate about what the organisation is trying to achieve, you will make a difference.
How do I find a Board?
To find a Board position, you can directly contact organisations you feel an affinity with, browse the websites of your local business associations or volunteer sites, or use your own networks.
How do I know if this Board position is right for me?
Not every Board role will be a good fit for you. Some Boards I stayed on for 6 months, others for 10 years. Over the years I’ve got savvier and now I ask myself these questions before applying for a new Board position:
- Do I understand the mission and how it is achieved? Am I passionate about that mission?
- What do I know about the CEO, other Board members and the senior management team? Will I work well with them? What are the dynamics of how the Board operates?
- How is the organisation travelling financially? Read their last annual report or ask questions. Even if they aren’t in great financial shape, I still might join, but I’m aware of the risks.
- Can I bring value to this organisation? Do they need my particular skills, contacts, or experience?
For a more extensive list of questions to ask, check out this great post from the Huffington Post:
There have been times I’d rather not had my Board responsibilities. Being Chairperson, 8 months pregnant and going through the dismissal process with our CEO is not something I wish to repeat. But the rewards far outweigh the challenging moments. I feel a great sense of satisfaction, that my Board service has had some impact on improving my community. As a bonus, it has helped my career and made me a more well-rounded leader.
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Claire Huntington has over 15 years’ experience in senior and executive level human resource management and strategic leadership positions. Claire learnt HR under the wings of great mentors and through trial and error. She has a very practical hands-on approach to HR and management, and isn’t afraid to look outside the box. Claire is also mum to three primary-school aged firecrackers and is an avid photographer in her spare time.
Disclaimer: The material contained in this publication is of a general nature only. It is not, nor is intended to be, legal advice. If you wish to act based on the content of this publication, we recommend that you seek professional advice.