Clients often ask me about the business development value of joining a nonprofit’s Board of Directors, and (as with most activities) the value varies depending upon your objectives and the board you might join. In general, board membership can be an excellent way to meet other professionals who may be relevant to your practice and to gain an extra perk for your biographical sketch. And if you join the board of a nonprofit that advances a cause important to you, you may find personal satisfaction as well.
Which board should you join?
Consider organizations that sponsor causes in which you are genuinely interested. You can gain strong contacts from an organization that addresses topics of little matter to you, but when your interests align with the organization’s mission, you will likely connect more deeply with other board members and with the organization’s
membership more generally. In addition, because you will actually be working on the board, real interest will make the hours you invest less of a burden.
Look for boards that do not include members just like you. If you’re a partner in a large firm, you’ll likely want to rule out board that include 3 or 4 other large law firm members unless, miraculously, there’s only minimal overlap in the firms’ areas of practice. Preferably, the board you select will include few, if any, other private practice lawyers.
Look for boards whose membership includes the kinds of people you would like to meet. If you represent corporations, look for GC members. If your key referral sources are financial planners or bankers, look for those members.
How can you identify opportunities and be nominated?
When you’re looking to join a board, your connections can help tremendously. As with any other professional activity, opportunities tend to go to those who are in the flow of information. Who among your contacts serves on a board? If you’re working in a large law firm, the firm partners as well as personnel in the business development or professional development departments may be able to make an introduction.
You might also consider looking for organizations that groom upcoming board members. In Atlanta, for instance, The Atlanta Women’s Foundation offers Women on Board, which trains women in board governance and leadership skills to increase the number of women serving on boards. Those who have completed the training receive access to a directory of opportunities for board service.
Use word-of-mouth to uncover opportunities, and check online resources like BoardnetUSA.org. Volunteering with an organization may be a good way to determine fit and to meet current board members. Consider taking on roles that relate to board members’ activities, such as fundraising and note-taking at board meetings.
Joining a board is only the first step for business development purposes: you must network effectively and build relationships. However, if you select a board well, contribute meaningfully, and develop strong connections, you may find your membership an invaluable part of your business development plan.