Prepare For a Board Position

boardOver the course of my career, I have both said YES to board positions and NO. I have served on nonprofits and the boards of for-profit national businesses. In agriculture and in rural communities, there is no shortage of volunteer opportunities! Especially when the position is non-paying!

One thing I have learned is there must be a weighted YES to why you join a board. In other words, if you are going to take the time to participate as a member of the board of a business or non-profit, the pros have to outweigh the cons.

Becoming a member of a nonprofit organization’s board can be a meaningful way to explore how your experience and expertise can be applied in the nonprofit sector at the governance level. It also can be a rewarding, high impact way that for-profit business women can do community service while learning new skills to enhance your own careers.

Keep in mind that when you join a board, you are agreeing to serve the best interests of that organization. This is why it’s important that you only agree to join a board if your moral and ethical compass says YES.

With serving the best interests of an organization in mind, it’s important to choose social causes you are most passionate about. Part of your job as a board member is to be the “face” of that organization – if you can’t feel passionate about the organization, your face will tell the tale.

Important Questions to Ask. To explore your passion for a particular cause, it can help to walk through a series of questions. Jeri Eckhart-Queenan, a partner with the Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit advisor to nonprofits and philanthropy, offers the following questions as guides:

  • Is the work of the organization interesting to me?
  • Could I imagine making the organization one of my leading philanthropies, in terms of the time, energy, and other personal resources I’m willing to devote to it?
  • How willing would I be to introduce others to the work of the organization?

After you’ve determined those causes you’re truly passionate about, you can begin to evaluate specific opportunities. Only entertain board opportunities if your goals are the same as those of the organization. Also, make sure your skills are what the organization truly needs and that your expertize can advance its mission – there is nothing worse than serving on a board just because they need to fill another seat.

Finally, consider the time commitment required to fulfill both your legal and fiduciary responsibilities as a board member. This commitment could require fundraising activities. Make sure to ask questions ahead of time and fully vet the opportunity.

It is ok to say NO. I recently turned down a board position for a start-up nonprofit organization that I supported in theory, but felt wasn’t quite fully baked and ready to launch. Instead, I offered my support and free advice as the organization advanced toward their goal.

Time is precious; choose wisely where you spend your time.

Fixing the Leaky Bucket

When it comes to women in business, we have “a leaky bucket”… women are prematurely plateauing their careers and then choosing to leave the business world all together.

leaky bucket

Lack of support, mentor relationships and equal salaries are all cited as reasons women may choose to leave the workplace all together once they reach a certain level. As a result, more companies are developing women networking groups to provide community and support at the management level.

Dow AgroSciences, for example, started in 2011 its Women’s Innovation Network. This group engages women leaders in the company to actively support and develop future women leaders. Volunteers commit to a 1-year program that includes monthly and bi-monthly one on one meetings with coaches, and twice yearly meetings on a leadership topic.

As a result, Dow AgroSciences was named Company of the Year for Women in Agribusiness in 2013. The award recognizes achievements to support and mentor growth of women.

“We intend to become a global pacesetter in our industry for bringing diverse perspectives to the table, and we need women to hold an important seat at that table, working to solve the issues affecting our world.” – James (Jim) R. Fitterling
Vice Chairman, Business Operations, Dow AgroSciences

And that…is how you start to fix a leaky bucket.