Do This To Sharpen Your Leadership Skills

Join a nonprofit board. But ask these nine questions first.

Sep 05, 2018

By Rachel Loock

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – If you want to enhance your leadership skills beyond your current position and advance your career, taking a seat on a nonprofit board of directors is an excellent way to do it. For many professionals, board membership can signal the next logical step along the career trajectory. It’s a move more people should seek to make.

While there’s no “right” age or title at which to volunteer your skills, organizations typically seek individuals with strong organizational, marketing, finance or fundraising skills. If you’ve developed these skills in your career, a volunteer gig might be a good fit for you. Volunteering on a committee or special project with a nonprofit organization early in your career can be an effective way to segue into a board position as you gain more professional experience.

There’s a good chance your career will benefit by building on your current expertise or, perhaps, you’ll develop a new area of expertise.

Relationships you build may help expand your network through connecting with other professionals in your industry as well as those who share your enthusiasm for the same causes.  You can also feel good about giving back to the community.

As a career and leadership coach, I am frequently asked the same question over and over from mid-career professionals: “How do I get started?”

Here’s my advice. Ask these nine questions before you decide where to commit your time and energy:

1. What do you care about? Determine the causes that are most meaningful to you. Volunteering often represents a significant investment of time, so you’ll want to volunteer for an organization that energizes you and has a mission you can enthusiastically support.

2. What are your strengths? What do you have to offer? (e.g., Do you have strong organizational or quantitative skills? Are you good at public relations? Can you raise money)?

3. Can you gather recommendations? Ask others in the nonprofit world with interests similar to yours for their recommendations.

4. What is required? Find out what the organization is seeking from you in terms of a time commitment and the duration of the position.

5. What’s the direction of the organization? Does the organization have a strategic plan?

6. With whom will you be working? Find out how many members are on the board, who leads the organization, and what each person’s specific responsibilities are.

7. What is expected? Ask for specifics about the performance criteria expected of board members.

8. What else should you be prepared to give? Will you be expected to donate or to tap into your personal network for fundraising? It is important to know how much of commitment you’ll have beyond board duties.

9. Can you get your feet wet first? Explore opportunities to serve on a committee or assist with a project first. It will help you learn more about the organization and determine whether a board position is the right fit. Small organizations with limited staff and budgetary resources generally have the greatest need and can be a great place to start.

Once you’ve landed a position, treat it with the same professionalism you would a paid job. Demonstrate your value in the new professional setting and look for ways to contribute. Offer to connect others in the organization with connections in your network, building relationships based on mutual gain. Creating a value-add for the organization not only broadens your network, but also expands your career expertise.

Rachel Loock, MS, ACC, is a career and executive coach with the Executive MBA program at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. She is a frequent presenter on career-related topics with MBA and working professional audiences.




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