Second Careers Changing Lanes

How to Get a Seat on a Nonprofit Board in Your Community

Whether or not you're mulling a full-time move to the philanthropic world, a volunteer seat on a nonprofit board can be a worthwhile endeavor. Such appointments are a de facto prerequisite for corporate board hopefuls and can create powerful networking opportunities along with the chance to do good works in your community. Here are a few tips for snagging a nonprofit board seat.

1. Start small. Don't set your initial sights on a board seat for a new billion-dollar hospital project or the city's largest performing-arts organization. Pick a group that's already close to your heart—say, the children's symphony orchestra where your daughter plays viola. It's essential that you care about the cause because you'll be expected to make a significant financial contribution and engage your friends and corporate colleagues in your fund-raising efforts.

2. Create a résumé that plays up your on- and off-the-job strengths. If you served as band Mom for your child's drum-and-bugle corps on its six-state tour, you've got something to offer the typical nonprofit board. Boards are looking for nuts-and-bolts folks to take on treasurer, membership-liaison, and database-management roles, and movers and shakers to rev up marketing, donor cultivation, and publicity efforts.

3. Post a profile at to let local boards know you're available. Tell co-workers and friends you're hunting for a nonprofit board seat, and one will find you sooner than you may expect.

Patience, Patience

Moving from a speedy, customer-focused for-profit enterprise to a philanthropic organization can be eye-opening. Expect to encounter these realities when you decamp for a not-for-profit:

— Culture shock. The pace of not-for-profit decision-making can drive a corporate refugee to distraction. You may think a grassroots community group is akin to a startup. But people aren't typically hired into nonprofits for their business savvy or ability to execute on a dime. Once the culture shock wears off, you may push for culture change. That process can be slow.

— Politics. Some say the politics in philanthropy are worse than in corporate life because resources are so constrained. Be ready to set a tone for up-front communication, to adjudicate a simmering feud or two, or even to make some personnel changes.

— A do-it-yourself mindset. If you have the top job, you may make the trade-off and do your own stapling or reserve your own hotel room rather than pay an additional staff salary. But don't say you weren't warned.

The Good Business Issue
blog comments powered by Disqus