One of the questions I get frequently is “How can I get chosen to serve on a Board of Directors?” There seems to be a caché attached to these positions, and since I have served, and continue to serve on multiple Boards of Directors and Boards of Advisors, sooner or later the question comes up.
There are many types of boards. They range from those in the non-profit world, to community associations, industry associations, government agencies, private companies, and public companies. And in each case the role is a little different. But, the one commonality across the continuum is that the role of the board member is about service.
Boards look for individuals who believe in the organization’s mission and can help move it towards it’s goals through a combination of Time, Treasury, and Talent.
So, where do you fit? It might be helpful to look at each of these different types of organizations and the associated board roles so that you can see what type of service is expected of a quality board member and then you can look at your own skill set and see if board service might be for you.
Advisory Boards exist in both the for-profit and not-for-profit worlds. In this case, board members are chosen specifically for their expertise. Here TALENT and experience is the main determining factor. Advisory Boards come in all shapes and sizes for advisory of government agencies, to start ups, to scientific organizations.
The major difference between Advisory Board positions and the other board roles discussed here ties to the concept of Fiduciary Responsibility. In the case of advisors, your role is to observe, council, influence, and to provide knowledge, contacts, or input. Conversely, in the role of Director or Trustee, you have the additional legal obligations to oversee and hold in trust and support not only the mission of the organization but to also protect it’s real and intangible assets, including oversight with legal compliance. This is known as fiduciary responsibility.
Directors and Trustees
Non-Profits: Charitable Organizations, Community Organizations and Agencies look for board members that meet the specific needs of the organization in addition to fiduciary responsibilities. Financial compensation (paying for board service) is fairly uncommon, and often prohibited by the organization’s by-laws. But don’t be surprised to find that board members are expected to contribute generously of both time and or talent as well as cold, hard cash to support the organization through either sponsorship, donations, or rolling up your sleeves and doing real work to move the mission forward. In these organizations, the public and the employees are the primary stakeholders board members are expected to safeguard and support.
Membership Based Associations can be either for profit and not for profit. But in both cases, the board has a new constituency to look out for – the members. Often board members are elected by the membership and from the membership of the association. As an association board member, expect to be asked to be very visible and engaged in the activities within your membership community.
Start Up Companies, Privately Held Firms, and Public Companies. As we move onto the for profit arena, all of the fiduciary obligations apply – but you have a new set of stakeholders you must satisfy – the investors. At this level, board members get paid. Compensation comes in the form of cash, equity or a combination of the two. Just remember, people expect more from you when they are paying you. Be prepared to deliver. The larger the organization, the more compensation is normally involved, but with that also comes more responsibility, more meetings, more committee work, and more people you ultimately have to keep happy. Once you get to the highest levels, shareholders look to the board to safeguard their interests AND be responsible for ultimate company performance. At one time, being on the board of companies like General Motors, Lehman Brothers, or a major bank were envied positions. Would you want to be one of those directors today?
As you can see, board service can be a lot or hard work and responsibility. The key to being invited or elected to a board is to reshape your thinking. Board service is not just standing up and graciously accepting applause from the crowd at a fundraiser or being seen as a leader at public events or in the media. It’s about making a contribution of your time, treasury and talent.
Take a look at the various organizations in your community. What do you have to contribute? How can you help them?
Get involved, start volunteering, share ideas, show them what you can do.
When you make a difference – you won’t have to ask to be involved at a higher leadership level.
They will ask you!
Thanks for stopping by. Stay Tuned…