Why Being on the Board of a Nonprofit Organization Turbocharges Your Career

Why Being on a Board Turbocharges Your Career

You may think that being on the board of a nonprofit organization is a totally altruistic use of your time. After all, you get an opportunity to make a difference in a space you believe in and to influence the organization’s direction. But the truth is that your career can benefit just as much as the cause, according to Girl Scout alum Joan Kuhl, author of Dig Your Heels In, a guide to helping women succeed despite sexism and a lack of opportunities for women in corporate America.

Increasingly, women are looking to board service to boost their careers, but they are still underrepresented. In a Deloitte analysis of nearly 7,000 companies in 60 countries, women held just 15% of all board seats globally in 2017, up from 12% of board seats in 2015. With women frequently assuming responsibility for more tasks or caregiving at home than men, it can be hard to justify the time away from work and family. But it’s a decision that can really pay off in the long term. Here are five ways you can look at time spent on a board as an investment in your career.

1. Widening Your Circle

“Joining the board of a nonprofit increases your access to professional networks outside of your own field,” Kuhl explains. When you consider you’ll be serving with other successful people, you realize the experience can help you widen your circle of influence considerably.

2. Boosting Your Public Profile

The ways the organization promotes your involvement can be numerous, according to Kuhl. “You’ll be included on the organization’s website, letterhead, and in its publication. You’ll have the opportunity to write articles, make presentations, serve on panels at conferences, and be quoted in press releases. You can also put your board service on your resume,” she notes.

3. Growing in New Areas

“Board service allows you to join committees that provide experiences you might not have at your current job,” says Kuhl, who fondly remembers her time selling Girl Scout cookies as her first sales and marketing opportunity.

Kuhl lists finance, event planning, marketing, and lobbying as examples of committees you can join. If you have foreign language fluency or experience with international business, she adds, you can use and expand these skill sets while you’re on a board.

4. Gaining Leadership Experience

“After you serve on a committee or two, take the reins as a committee chairperson,” Kuhl suggests. “As you attend board meetings, you’ll learn how to run them, which will help you if you eventually rise to a vice chair or chairman of the board position.” Not confident walking into a boardroom? Familiarize yourself with Robert’s Rules of Order, she suggests, to learn how boards run their official meetings.

5. Offering a Stepping-Stone

Serving on nonprofit boards can give you valuable experience early in your career that will help you serve on for-profit boards later, a move that can seriously open doors and increase annual income as you move up the corporate ladder.