Want to be a leader in your community or industry? Joining the board of a local non-profit is an excellent way to demonstrate adaptable leadership traits in a capacity outside of your day job, gain credibility from other local leaders, and round out your skill set (all while actually working for a good social purpose!).
While it isn’t easy, and you may have to start from the bottom with some good old-fashioned elbow grease, it’s also not as daunting as it might sound. No matter what your skill set, many non-profits—from grassroots organizations to national chapters—are looking for dedicated, savvy people to join their boards or committees. So how do you land your first seat at the table? Follow these rules and you’re sure to be welcomed onboard.
1.Network, Network, Network
As with many things, knowing someone on the inside can be paramount to getting your foot in the door. If possible, use your network to see if you can get introductions to people inside an organization.
But if you don’t know anyone that’s specifically involved or connected, don’t be afraid to be bold. Reach out to an employee or volunteer leader and ask if you can take her to lunch or coffee. Be accommodating of her schedule, and definitely plan to meet in person. Have questions prepared and, just like a job interview, do your homework about the organization before meeting. Show that you’re familiar with its efforts and describe the characteristics that make it stand out to you as compared to others with similar missions. (This is also a good exercise for you—while doing your research about one organization, you may find another one that’s a better fit.)
2. Make Your Intentions Clear
A golden rule in life is that you never know until you ask. So be clear about your intentions to be further involved with the organization, including your overarching goals. For example, it’s entirely appropriate to say, “I really want to help your organization with fundraising, and ultimately, I would love to have a leadership role on one of your committees.”
Of course, also ask how you can get involved. Bring your resume, and make sure you articulate your qualifications and special skills so the organization knows the great things you’re capable of accomplishing. But remember to be open to what the organization would most benefit from at this point in time—even if it’s not your perfect fit.
3. Follow Up
After each of your meetings, send a handwritten thank-you note, and put a reminder on your calendar to follow-up with an email to your contacts every quarter. A great way be effective at this is to keep an eye on the organization—if it makes the news, mail or email a copy of the article with your congratulations. Or, simply keep up-to-date on its website, looking for press releases, program updates, or new blog entries that you can mention when you follow up.
4. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
After making contacts, emphasize that your interest is sincere by making yourself visible within the organization. Support its social media efforts, go to events, and most importantly—start volunteering in whatever capacity you can. If you aren’t supportive of their current projects and events, why would they think you’d be a good fit to be a leader on their board? Plus, everyone has to start somewhere, so help out on any project the organization offers you, and work your way up to more significant tasks when possible. Try to uncover the skills you can offer the organization that could be most meaningful, and offer them freely.
Once you’ve demonstrated your dedication and ability to be an asset for the organization, you’ll be well on your way to moving up the ladder.