Professional Development – At Your Service

I have a proposal for your professional development that is too good for you to pass up.

  • Gain leadership skills by participating in real-time challenges and experiences
  • Develop communication and influencing skills
  • Earn respect and admiration from your colleagues
  • Build your personal and professional network

Does that sound like the perfect development course? It is – and it starts with joining the board of directors of a non-profit or other organization. Participating on a board provides many benefits, but it is not for the faint of heart.

  • Sign up only if you are passionate about the cause. Your passion will help you see your commitment through. Most boards require a 2-3 year commitment, which allows you to plan out your tenure knowing there is an end date.
  • Get ready to drink from the firehose. Effective board members must understand the mission, vision and operations of the organizations they serve. Spend time up front learning all you can from fellow board members, from sponsors and supporters and from key employees; then, use your learnings to help determine where you can be most effective and have an impact. Consider taking “Board of Directors 101” training from an organization like BoardSource. Some boards will put new members through training, but if they don’t consider making the investment yourself.
  • Be prepared to work hard. Organizations – and especially non-profits – need working board members. Your tenure will be spent in two primary ways: 1) developing ideas, strategies and plans with fellow board members or advisors, and 2) delivering on them. The delivery doesn’t happen by itself. Sure, there are “non-working” boards you can join, where the work magically gets done (usually by a paid staffer), but these positions often come with the expectation of a hefty financial contribution (see “paid staffer” comment). Besides, you are in it for the experience, right?
  • Don’t squander the opportunity. Board service requires a commitment of your time and energy, so now is the time to “go big or go home.” Seek out committees and work teams where you can apply and hone your skills and knowledge. Your accomplishments will become line-items on your resume or LinkedIn profile, so plan accordingly to fill gaps or strengthen your experience where you need to. The experience you gain is your reward for your service.
  • If you serve for a non-profit, plan to make a financial donation too. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Non-profit organizations stand a better chance of obtaining grant funds when they can demonstrate financial support from the people closest to the organization, such as the board of directors.

Finding a rewarding board position is a lot like looking for a job. Network and ask people you trust for ideas and recommendations. Board member matching sites are growing in popularity, where you can enter your skills and interests and be introduced to an organization looking for someone like you. Or, start where your heart is, with the topics you are passionate about and already support and believe in.

Heather Nelson is a partner with PeopleResults. You can reach her at or on Twitter at @HeatherGNelson1. Sign up to receive the PeopleResults blog at Current.