From Meg Busse.
Before my first board meeting, this is what I pictured:
- Big names from big organizations planning fancy fundraising galas
- Lots of Motions, Seconds, Abstentions, and Calls to Order
- Long board tables with tall leather chairs, a la The Apprentice
- Older wealthy folks writing substantial checks
- Networking, schmoozing, and hobnobbing
You probably won't have meetings here. (From Stuart Chalmers / Creative Commons)
So a few years ago, when I was invited to join a board after volunteering with an organization for a while, I was really nervous before the first meeting. I put on my version of what I though folks might wear to The Apprentice, brought my red leather padfolio for notes and to carry printouts of budget, and had polished up on Roberts Rules of Order and was ready to Second. So when I got to the meeting and the four or five other board members were all sitting around a bar table in jeans, some scrounging for pens or paper, and all laughing, catching up, and having a great time, I knew my assumptions about board meetings were way off.
Not only was my perception off about what board service looks like, so was my understanding of how much fun it could be and how essential it was to my professional development.
What boards look like and how much fun they are is entirely subjective — depends on the board, the current members, the particular meeting, and the size and type of organization. However, the importance of board service to professional development is a bit more constant.
There is a great new resource for providing information about board service. It’s called Board Life Matters and it’s so new that some pages are still in development. But definitely check out the resources page and the blog — you’ll find great stories and tips for the how, what and why of board service.
Another great resources is in Chapter Five of The Idealist Guides to Nonprofit Careers. There’s a whole section about how board service can make you a stronger candidate for a nonprofit job, complete with a list of additional websites to visit.
But if you’re looking for a quick list of reasons to join a board, I figured I’d offer up my top five professional development benefits of board service:
- Networking: Because boards are often composed of passionate, committed people from different geographic, professional, and personal arenas, my favorite benefit of board service is the people. Board service can definitely be a way to strengthen your network, but it goes way beyond just collecting contacts and connections—the folks I’ve met on boards are some of my closest friends.
- Skill development: I am constantly challenged in my current job, but board service allows me to flesh out and expand my skill set. For example, I don’t do much event planning in my job, but through the board of YNPN National, I’m coordinating the 2010 Young Nonprofit Professionals Network Leaders Conference in Denver with a team of amazing people.
- New ideas: This is true of any new opportunity, but through board service, I get to hear about folks’ professional and personal projects, as well as learn from them while working together on board projects. Case in point, the chair of the local board I’m on is involved with the Leftbank Project, “the commercial development of a Portland landmark with a community of mission-driven tenants.” How cool is that? So because of this board, I’ve been able to hear about this project as it develops.
- Impact: As a young professional, it just doesn’t get old to see decisions I help make, the committees I chair, and strategies I develop have a tangible impact on an entire organization.
- Perspective: Board service has provided me an opportunity to shape the long-term strategy and direction of an organization. This is an incredibly valuable perspective for any employee to bring to a project, position, or sector.
I’ve served on four boards so far, for organizations that range from grassroots and local to city-wide advisory to national-level networking. On each, I’ve met amazing people, had an impressive amount of fun, developed my professional and personal skills, and found board service to be yet another way to make a lasting impact on the community.
And for the record, I’ve not been to a meeting that was even remotely like The Apprentice board room. Yet.
[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]