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Tips for joining a board of directors


Nate Hess Palatine, IL

I am nearing retirement from the National Guard (22+ years) and will have time to pursue some things that my commitment to the Guard didn't allow. Near the top of the list is board membership for an organization in my area (Chicago and Northern suburbs). While my preference would be a for-profit company (something regional or possibly a growing start-up) as I feel that my background and experience is best suited towards this, I would also be interested in non-profits that had a vision and mission which resonated with me. While I wouldn't turn down compensation, my primary purpose in this is to leverage and grow my experience to differentiate myself towards a senior executive track in my current career. I also feel strongly that I would excel at the governance and macro strategy required of an effective board of directors.
Professionally, I have a strong track record of progression and experience in large scope (previous Senior Manager/Director level authority with multiple echelon direct reports, full P&L responsibility for over $250 Mil, simultaneous complex initiatives, autonomy to determine strategy and direction, etc.) leadership with a Fortune 100 company. However, I made a lateral/back-step move when transitioning to consulting to pursue a specific area of business strategy that I was passionate about. While I am very glad I did this and it has worked out well, I recognize this could be seen as a red flag.
My academic credentials are strong, but not impeccable. I believe I have many boxes checked (MBA from a solid school, post-graduate work in Finance, Master's in Organization Design & Development) and am planning on pursuing additional executive education to round myself out further.
I fully recognize that this goal is something that will take time to achieve at the level that I want and I have only just begun looking at potential organizations for which I think I would be suited. Just looking for some guidance and advice on how to head down this path.
Here are some specific questions/asks:
1. How do small to mid-cap companies and large non-profits select board members? Where do they look for candidates? Are there search firms focused on this side of recruiting, if so which firms? What is the selection and vetting process and timeline?
2. What are key attributes/experience that small to mid-cap companies and large non-profits prize in board members? What are skill sets that boards often lack? Are there specific programs (academic or otherwise) which are looked at as prime credentials in this area?
3. What are ways to find organizations where board membership would be a good fit based on experience, interests, and culture? Where can I find organizations that are in need of board members? Any specific organizations (Vet focused, non-profit, for-profit, etc.) that I should look into and pursue?
4. How important is direct experience in the industry of an organization for board members? Should I stick to industries I know (Financial Services, Learning Solutions, veteran focused for non-profits, etc.) or will they prefer generalized experience with complex organizations?
There are a lot more questions I have on this, but I feel like this is more than sufficient to get a substantive thread going. Thank you in advance to any and all that share their thoughts, looking forward to seeing what suggest.

22 October 2019 6 replies Leadership & Management



Sotir Koev Washington, DC

Joining a board carries comes with a lot of responsibilities and liabilities. If the company you sit on the board of gets sued, or does anything bad you are on the hook. Definitely need board member insurance and a strong legal representation at the very least.


Chris Hyers Farmington, CT

I love this as a plan. My career path started as staff in not-for-profits, and I hire from there regularly as I think they are good training grounds and more likely to give someone a chance. Board membership might be hard for a first leap, but volunteering is not and that can give you access to the staff and board decision makers - - - you have a number of talents to offer, volunteering puts them to use. The dozens of boards I've served on all came from different directions and while many want you for fundraising, churches, chambers of commerce or small schools may just need your time and talents.

I'd suggest find small causes you are personally passionate about and get in touch with their staff leader for the purposes of offering yourself up - - - you just never know where it goes or what needs they have. There are a million paths, take one you are passionate about.

Did I mention, I think this is a great plan? GOOD LUCK


Teresa Stopka Issaquah, WA

I have always started small in the areas of my interest, but sometimes it just means getting some experience to start and making some contacts. It is very much an invite only to many nonprofit boards on the larger side. However, smaller nonprofits usually have vacancies to fill and the requirements to be on the board are minimal. I am a CPA, so we tend to get requests all the time to be on boards and we have our state societies that provide lists of boards that are looking for other members. Having a finance background is the easiest way for people to have confidence that you are the right fit and you seem to have those qualifications.
Do you have an active mentor in your area that in involved in boards that can give you some tips on making the right contacts? Are you involved actively in any nonprofit as a volunteer whereby you can build those relationships? Honestly, I am constantly invited to boards where I do active volunteer work and I am part of the community they work in. This is how you meet the contacts sometimes to get on a board. Sometimes it take a year or two, sometimes it is less. If it is a college or university, that takes more time. Your local nonprofit that provides community assistance, you might be surprised by the needs they have for good, strong and active board members.


Sam Hoffman Roslyn Heights, NY

I'm not going to lie, in my experience, non-profits want board members who can raise money for them.


Nate Hess Palatine, IL

Hi Francis,
Thanks for the reply, I appreciate the suggestion. I have considered a J.D. in the past, did well on the LSAT and even started the admissions process at a few "marquee" schools. It isn't 100% off the table, but after long consideration I feel like a Ph.D. or an Ed.D. is a better fit, since I plan to teach at a university upon "real retirement". It is also would be difficult for me to take the time off of work and at my age/experience level I don't think I would gain more ground when I re-entered the workforce than if I continued in my career.
To be clear, I am enjoying my career in consulting, the money is there and the variety of work keeps me engaged. I'm not searching for an entirely new path, just looking to broaden the one I'm on and I think that board membership would be a strong stepping stone towards senior level advancement. Also, I think the strategic challenges it would present would be a valuable and interesting growth opportunity.
Thanks again though, I get your point and it's still an option that rattles around my head.



How about considering Law School? Sounds to me like you are searching for something meaningful and rewarding. A path that will open up unknown professional opportunities. Sounds like Law School to me.

Law School, (Juris Doctor, & State & Federal Bar Membership), ain't cheap nor easy.

How badly do you want to reach for the "Gold Ring" on the Merry-go-round of life?

I would be happy to provide additional information.

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