How to get on a board
Becoming a board member could be an integral part of your career plan at any stage. The good news for CAs is that every board at every company in every industry has and may need members who have accounting expertise.
Along with the right skills, how you position yourself and the steps you take to obtaining this role is key. The experience that you’ll get by being on a board is unmatched.
“Being on a board is a great networking tool and a great professional development tool,” says Scott Dobroski, community expert at Glassdoor. “It’s a great way to get engaged with a company or organisation and really give back and weigh in. It can diversify your skill set also, which is always positive.”
This experience can also help you understand how companies operate and plan on a very high level. “You’ll get exposure to different leadership styles, corporate cultures and business models,” says Douglas Gladstone, vice president at Calibre One. “You’ll be able to see things from a board-level perspective.”
It’s never too early to begin exploring and preparing for board opportunities.
Responsibilities can vary, and board members have a fiduciary duty as well. “The main responsibilities are making sure that the organization is reaching its goal and meeting its mission statement,” says Scott. “That can involve attending meetings, reviewing key materials and documents, whether it’s financial, growth, or suggestions on products and service improvements.”
The time commitment is at least four meetings a year, and board appointments are typically eight years long, with commitments for start-ups and not-for-profits ranging at about four years. Most public boards pay, while private boards may or may not pay. Board of director compensation can range from about $50,000 to as much as $900,000 a year for top S&P 500 companies. Members of not-for-profit boards aren’t compensated, but more commonly make donations to that organization.
It’s never too early to begin exploring and preparing for these opportunities, since you may need to build your expertise and expand your network. “If you have a related skill set that can actually contribute to an organisation in some way and you believe you can add value to their growth and bottom line, then you have a good chance of being able to sit on a board,” says Scott.
Institutions generally have a short list of people who they’d like to sit on their boards, and here are six tips on how to best get on that list:
1. Know your value proposition
Boards seek members with a specific expertise — your skill set, experience, differentiators and value proposition are what set you apart.
“Chartered accountants who may have additional designations — they have a fair pick of the litter and can pretty much go anywhere,” says Douglas. “Today, the most desired skill is someone who has an audit or finance background. That’s one of the hot areas where there’s need globally.”
2. Get your company’s support
“If you go out looking for board seats without your boss’s support, that could be difficult,” says Douglas. “You’re not leaving the company; you just want their endorsement in the event that things materialise.”
Your manager will serve as a reference if you’re being vetted for a position and can also help you to get more involved in board meetings at your own company. While you won’t be able to attend an entire board meeting, you may be able to sit in on a portion of a meeting at your company with the help of your boss. This opportunity can help you understand what to expect at these meetings.
You can also volunteer to participate on one of your own company’s board committees, which can give you exposure to how boards are run. Since these meetings are a time commitment, your manager’s support is integral.
“You need to make sure that people in other companies know how to find you,” says Douglas. “If you want to get on a board, you want other people to know you’re on the market and available.”
Your own network is the best place to start, particularly if you know people who are already on boards. Reach out to these people and ask about their experience and how they obtained that position. “If they know you and there’s an empty seat, they may invite you to interview at the company,” says Douglas.
Also, consider working with an executive retained search firm that places people on boards. They may make a pro bono introduction if you have the right skill set for a certain client, which may result in an interview.
Attending events sponsored by professional associations like the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) is also a great way to network with people and find potential board opportunities.
“You have to take the initiative to make people aware that you’re on the market,” says Douglas, “and you have to be proactive and leverage your network.”
4. Develop your experience
Spend time developing and refining any skills that you need but don’t have. Your skills combined with your network are what make you marketable.
Speaking engagements and writing blog posts on your subject matter expertise are great ways to showcase your skills. “LinkedIn is one of the most commonly used tools today worldwide for networking, finding individuals,” says Douglas, “and they have a great portal for making statements and blogs.” Writing blogs and commenting on articles can help you show your expertise. Consider creating and leading a group so you can have your own conversations to further display your knowledge.
Working with others can also help you get your name out there. “Most people who have sat on boards have done official or unofficial consulting work before,” says Scott. “Unofficial happens all the time because people want to help their friends.”
5. Volunteer and start small
“The people on the biggest boards in the world are on small boards as well in their community for causes they care about,” says Scott.
Not-for-profit boards can serve as a great launching pad, whether you’re on the board or volunteering on a committee. This experience can help you market yourself and express interest that you’d like to serve on a board. Idealist, boardnetUSA and VolunteerMatch are great resources for finding not-for-profit boards looking to fill seats.
6. Do your research
Board appointments do last for a few years and it’s important that you choose wisely. “If that company happens to fail and you didn’t do your due diligence, your name could be associated with that failure so you want to vet opportunities out just like the company will vet out that candidate,” says Douglas.