How to Get on Boards

Develop your career and your community by serving on a board of directors.

BY GILLIAN HEWITT-SMITH


Investing the time to make a positive difference in your community is one of the best career moves you can make. A great way to contribute is to serve on a voluntary committee
or board of directors. The personal dividends you earn can be reinvested into your career through renewed energy, leadership and problem solving experience, as well as a growing and expanded network of valuable contacts.

BOARD MEMBER ATTRIBUTES

A board of directors is a group of elected or appointed members who jointly govern the policies and activities of the organization. The best boards are comprised of members who share a passion and commitment for what their organization does. Board members should have a good understanding of fundraising or be very comfortable approaching those in their network about donations and fundraising. Overall, networking is key. Board members must be able to build rapport, make friends and expand the community of their organization. Most boards need and value diversity — members who bring different backgrounds, expertise and ways of thinking to the board. This can help facilitate balanced decision-making and checks and balances within the board. Finally, a good board of directors is comprised of doers and implementers. That is, taking a can-do attitude and getting things done. If this sounds like you, you will be in great demand.

PICK YOUR PASSION

Depending on where you are in your own personal and professional development, you have some combination of five things to offer: time, energy, ideas (drawn from your professional experience and elsewhere), influence and financial support. You can think of the process as a job search: you want to make sure you can make a valuable contribution, build a long-term relationship with the organization and stand proudly as its ambassador. Pick your passion by starting with what interests you. No matter what
gets your juices flowing — the arts, city-building initiatives, social justice or healthcare concerns — there will be an organization to match. Start your research with some due diligence. Read the organization’s annual report and financial statements. Attend a community meeting or special event. Talk to those within the organization. Get a sense of the organization’s role in your community and in the work being done. When you’re ready, ask for a meeting with the organization’s volunteer co-ordinator or executive director.
The right ‘fit’ is vital to both parties.

CONTRIBUTION AND COMMITMENT

Before you agree to volunteer, understand the terms of the relationship. Do they want you to attend monthly board or committee meetings? Pitch in with hands-on help? Is there an
expected financial contribution? Every single opportunity will be different, so be clear on what you both need and can offer. Serving on a board or committee is a fulfilling way to build your career, contribute to your community and have a wonderful personal experience along the way. Get involved and enjoy!

GETTING STARTED: RESEARCH AND RESOURCES
Finding the right volunteer organization and opportunity will take time and effort. Talk to friends and colleagues about where (and why) they volunteer.

TIP: Online and retail bookstores will have an abundance of books to help your research and learning. Enter key words into search engines, browse the selections and further customize your search. You can also formalize your training and preparation. For example, the Institute of Corporate Directors offers an excellent course called Governance Essentials Program for Directors of Not-For-Profit Organizations.

THESE ONLINE RESOURCES CAN HELP YOU LEARN MORE AND GET INVOLVED:
Volunteer.ca – www.getinvolved.ca
CHARITY VILLAGE – www.charityvillage.ca
BUSINESS FOR THE ARTS BOARDLINK – businessforthearts.org/boardlink/boardlink


As someone who has mastered the value of networking, being involved and making a difference, Gillian Hewitt Smith is president of the board of directors for The Stop Community Food Centre and co-chairs the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Next program, in addition to sitting on 15 other boards in the community and in addition to her full-time job as a CEO. Currently, she is executive director and CEO of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. Formerly she was the senior advisor of Corporate Affairs and head of communications of Capital Markets Canada at RBC, and former manager of Corporate Reputation at Aeroplan. She is active with each venture she participates in and is stellar at time management. To understand the importance of sitting on a board, we asked Gillian to share her expertise with our readers to help realize the how and why of this important career move.