If you read some of my early Levo contributions, you’ll know that in the spring after university graduation I was making a concerted effort to build my personal brand, expand my skill set, and grow my network. With my background in non-profits and fundraising, and my penchant for community leadership, joining a non-profit board seemed like the perfect opportunity.
There was just one teeny, tiny problem: Who would want me?
After all, I was young, I had never sat on a board before, and I certainly didn’t have money to donate or connections to offer.
But I knew better. I knew that I had three key things to contribute:
- Unique experience. While I had only been out of school for a matter of months, I still had a wealth of experience to draw on. Just because my experience (leading community groups, working at a non-profit, etc.) happened to take place while I was still a student, it didn’t mean it was any less valuable than experience gained in the workplace.
- A youthful voice. Most boards are made up of established professionals with decades of experience, which means that a younger perspective can be a valuable addition to the table, especially if the target market of the organization is young.
- “Soft skills.” These are skills like leadership, communication, and creativity.
Armed with the confidence that I had a voice worth listening to, and valuable skills and experience to contribute, I leaned way in and began reaching out to boards of organizations whose missions I admired, inquiring about vacant positions. (Note: Do not apply to organizations that you do not believe in. Board work can be challenging and time-consuming, and you need to have passion for what you’re doing.) One after the next, they (politely) turned me down and asked me to keep in touch. And then one day, I saw a posting on the Volunteer Ottawa website for a board opening.
After a brief email exchange, I was asked to come in for an interview. I prepared myself for the conversation by learning about the organization inside and out. I devoured annual reports, read every word on the website, and read local news stories on the organization. I prepared thoughtful questions, and took the time to come up with specific contributions that I could make to the organization. I also took care to research the background of the existing board members in order to find a way to differentiate myself from the existing members and determine which of my skills to emphasize in the conversation.
And it paid off! I am proud to say that, since May 2012, I have been a sitting member of the Volunteer Ottawa Board of Directors. It has turned out to be an incredibly beneficial experience… but I’ll save those lessons learned for another post!
If you take away only one thing from my story, let it be this: Applying to your first board requires you to lean in. It requires you to be confident in your skills, and believe that you have a right to sit at the table. So if you’re ready to take the next step, then lean on in—your community is waiting for you!
What do you hope to get out of a board position? Tell us in the comments!
Ask Binta Niambi Brown, Partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, how she landed her amazing board position!