A friend wrote, “How do you find board of director openings? What if I am just a lowly nobody? I feel like board members are ‘somebody.’ Rising executives, or people who give lots of money...” I was momentarily floored by this sentiment, but quickly understood her feelings. Here's how I attempted to clear up her perceptions:
Some boards do target rising executives in order to build what will hopefully become a long-lasting corporate relationship. Others are targeted specifically for wealth. Some boards specify that you must “give or get” a specified amount every year. (I’m not a fan of that practice.) Each board has its own culture in this regard. Be sure to ask your org (the Executive Director, or even better, the Board Chair) what their expectations are. Ask permission to sit it on a meeting.
In fact, that’s where I would start my search for a board. I would simply call on the orgs I’m passionate about, and ask them about their board service expectations and their recruitment cycle. Some cities have board-recruitment fairs. Atlanta’s United Way VIP program holds one annually. The Atlanta Women’s Foundation does board education and keeps a list of current board openings as part of their Women on Board program.
And I’m somewhat surprised at the question, “What if I am just a lowly nobody?” I don’t know anyone who is a lowly nobody. Everyone with a heart and a brain has something to contribute to the cause of their choice. First, let’s set some expectations for potential board members as to what board service really is. You may be familiar with the axiom: “If you choose to serve on a board, you should bring your Time, your Treasures, and your Talents to the table.” I say it a little differently: Be a doer, a donor, and a door opener. And if you can’t do all three of those things, make space for someone else at the table. (And if you can’t do all three of those things, your favorite org will still welcome your help in other ways.) But the bottom line here is: You should treat your board experience as nothing less than an actual job. You are a “somebody” when you choose to do that.