Find a Board Position

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A strong, effective board is a key contributor to the success of both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. The board is made up of directors who individually support the strategy of the organization and collectively have the skills, knowledge and experience it needs. Ideally the board will have a collective synergy that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Being part of a board of directors also offers many benefits to the individual directors. Whether it is a large or small, or a for-profit or not-for-profit organization, the board oversees the entire organization and offers individuals normally working in a more specialized role the opportunity to be involved in all aspects of the organization. This broad based experience can often fill in the gaps in your experience required to get the next promotion, especially ones that involve broader organizational responsibilities. Participation on a board is also excellent from a networking perspective as it will often facilitate connections with individuals from a wide range of disciplines. Although large for-profit board members are compensated, compensation tends to be more limited in smaller public companies but the above benefits still make a very rewarding experience. Participation on not-for-profits is also voluntary but along with the tangible benefits listed above, there is also the reward of knowing you are contributing to a worthwhile cause.

The following qualities are frequently considered by organizations when searching for a director:

Work Experience — What type of work experience do you have? Your business experience in education, business, a profession, and public service could all be an asset to a board.

Board Experience — Do you have previous for-profit and not-for-profit board experience? While there are some differences, many of the skills learned in one area are transferable to the other.

Education — You should fully understand the legal and other responsibilities of a director.

Ethics/Integrity — You should have the highest moral and ethical character.

Courage — You should have the courage to ask tough questions and to voice support of, or opposition to, proposals and actions. Loyalty to the stakeholders' interests may demand that you express dissent and persist in demanding answers to your questions

Individual Character — A director requires personal qualities to be able to make a substantial contribution to board deliberations. These qualities include intelligence, self-assuredness, inter-personal skills, independence, a willingness to ask tough questions, communication skills and commitment.

Availability — You must have sufficient time available to discharge duties of board membership. You are required to attend meetings, fully review materials, and actively participate in meetings. The number of boards you already serve on as well as your other commitments and obligations  should also be considered so that you are dependable and don’t over-commit.

Compatibility — You need to be able to develop a good working relationship with other board members and management. You also want to select a board from an industry or cause that is of interest to you.

Good Judgement — You should be able to focus on important issues and base your decisions and actions on wisdom, sound business practice and common sense.

Although all boards have the same underlying governance responsibility — establishing and monitoring the long-term direction of the organization — there can be considerable variety in the board activities and the actual jobs that directors of not-for-profit organizations are expected to perform. A key factor in this is the mix of volunteers and paid staff. In organizations with professional staff and management, directors generally spend most or all of their time on governance. In many cases, however, directors may also be expected to participate in fundraising and other operating activities. In smaller organizations, particularly those that are all-volunteer, the directors may be actively involved as volunteers in operations (often as chairs of working committees) and board meetings can involve considerable time on operational matters. Governance is just one of many things that the board of a not-for-profit organization handles.

If you are on a working committee of a not-for-profit board, it’s important not be too involved in details and thereby lose perspective. Directors must recognize that individual board members who chair working committees are wearing their "volunteer hats" when they report to the board on the committee's activities, while the rest of the board members wear "governance hats".

Finding a board position can be a challenge, especially in a for-profit or large not-for-profit organization, but there are both new and traditional resources to help you. Many executive search firms have long offered board search services. A combination of education and relevant business experience may be as valuable as extensive board experience. Being a graduate of director accreditation programs such as those offered by universities, often in collaboration with other organizations like the Institute of Corporate Directors and the Conference Board of Canada, may help open doors. In addition, the Directors Source website is a great resource when seeking a board position. With new companies posting board positions for CPAs, this free service to members is something to consider in your quest to find a position on a board.

Director orientation and training typically provided by both not-for-profit and for-profit organizations are important, but they tend to describe how things are done at the organization. Directors are in a better position to oversee and evaluate the organization if they get some of their information from other sources. As there are personal risks to being part of a board, it is especially important to understand what those risks are and to be aware of the directors and officers insurance purchased by the organization.

In addition, it is useful to read up on the current trends in the organization's sector and, for not-for-profit organizations, the latest information in not-for-profit administration. Conferences, seminars and networking events are also valuable ways to broaden a board member's perspective and understanding.

Recommended self-learning resources include 20 Questions Directors Should Ask about Risk, 20 Questions Directors Should Ask about Building a Board, and 20 Questions Directors of Not-for-Profit Organizations Should Ask about Governance. All of these documents, and many more, can be accessed using the following link:

Suggested providers of education for both for-profit and not-for-profit directors: