Realising your potential as a Non-Executive Director

Colleagues careers discussion
imultiply author By Debbie Shields, Manager West of Scotland, iMultiply

22 January 2018

Professionals are increasingly choosing portfolio careers and demand for Non-Executive Directors and trustees continues to rise within multiple sectors, particularly for high growth companies and charities, says Debbie Shields from iMultiply.

And yet, surprisingly, the mutual benefits of the non-executive director or trustee role are still often underestimated.

As Elaine Crichton, Pro Bono Executive at Inspiring Scotland confirms: “the role of non-executive directors and trustees is often overlooked, but the contribution they make by giving professional expertise and perspective is essential to ensuring that high growth companies and charities are run well. Ultimately, this leads to better governance.

Non-executive directors and trustees benefit too; by being given the opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge in a different and very rewarding way.”

Finding the best match

The first and often most significant barrier to joining a board is that it is difficult to know where to look to find the opportunity which best marries with your skillset and aspirations. Organisations will often only advertise on sector specific job websites, such as in charity or tech, in addition to their own vacancy pages and by word of mouth.

A solid starting point is to get a feel for the sector or cause you are targeting by reaching out to your network, reading publications targeted at the sector and approaching specialist recruitment firms who can provide an overview of your target sector with your skillset in mind.

The selection process will usually involve a standard application form or CV submission, targeted covering letter and informal interview. A face to face meeting with the chairman of the board as well as the CEO is also common. This ensures that your appointment is fully supported by the board.

The best matches happen when both parties are invested, honest and stand to gain from the appointment. As a new board member you stand to gain as much in terms of self-development and broadening of experience, as the organisation will gain from your expertise. If both parties are invested in each other and honest about the commitment required, then it is a win-win situation.

Pitching it right

When interviewing for a non-executive role within a high growth company or charity board, it is important to remember that the board are aiming to attract and retain the right calibre of executive and will have the following criteria in mind:


While someone who is passionate about an industry or cause is fantastic, the board will have a specific skills gap in mind which they are looking to fill.  If they need a finance, human resources or legal specialist, then supporting expertise needs to be showcased at interview.


A diverse board is critical. A wide range of perspectives is essential for effective governance.  Boards are looking for a range of perspectives from a variety of backgrounds, with the goal of enabling the organisation to tackle challenges from different angles.


It’s important to consider if there are any conflicts of interest.  There can be legal restrictions on who can act as a trustee or non-executive director. For instance, individuals can’t be a trustee if they are disqualified under the Charites Act.  The first port of call should be to consult the charity regulator (OSCR) for full details on the legalities surrounding becoming a trustee.  Another consideration is whether any existing employment contract or company obligations apply.


Being upfront with the board about the time commitment you are willing or able to give is critical. Are you only able to attend a board meeting once a month?  How much advisory work will your other commitments allow for?

The rewards of gaining valuable cross-sector experience and skills are considerable. However, to find the right role the critical requirements and expectations of a board need to be researched, understood and met.

Realise your potential

Debbie Shields is the West of Scotland Manager at iMultiply, a market leading and innovative recruitment business specialising in finance and executive search. She has worked in recruitment for over a decade, with a particular focus on finance and accountancy. Debbie's expertise spans advising boards, non-executive directors and trustees on their permanent and interim career and resourcing goals.

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This blog is one of a series of articles from our commercial partners. 
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of ICAS.


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