Tips on securing a Board role

People wish to join the Board of an organisation for many reasons, and, unless you are actually invited to take up such a position, you will be required to participate in a recruitment and selection process not unlike applying for a job. This article will provide you with some useful tips on how to secure a Board role and start your journey of contributing to the mission and sustainability of organisations in the non-profit sector. 

There are two separate stages in the Director appointment process: the application stage and the interview stage. Irrespective of how much experience, knowledge and capability you think you might have, unless your application connects with the selection panel, you will not be given the opportunity to move to the next stage. So, this article addresses these two stages (and if you’re thinking that this appears to be elementary, I am currently participating in just such a Director appointment process and I have been dismayed at the quality and content of applications from very experienced and knowledgeable business people, hence this article!) 

The Application stage

Suggestions to improve your chances of being selected to progress to the interview stage:

If possible, make contact with the Chairman or person leading the selection panel. This will not only demonstrate your interest in the position but, more than likely, provide you with some useful insights into the organisation, what is being looked for and what is important, all of which you can incorporate into your application. You will be surprised what you will learn from this approach and this will place you ahead of all those applicants who didn’t bother to undertake this very simple but effective task. 

Letter of application: Your cover letter is your best opportunity to gain the attention of the selection panel. In no more than two pages, you should provide evidence / demonstrate:

  • Ability: skills, capabilities, experience, the value you can add to the organisation at a strategic and leadership level (the telephone conversation should have identified what the organisation is looking for and your application should align with this)
  • Availability: how you will be able to meet the requirements of time and effort to effectively undertake the Board position. An organisation does not want to perceive that it will become a lower priority for an applicant due to existing circumstances
  • Affinity: why do you want the role and can you demonstrate empathy for the organisation and its Mission? A non-profit cannot countenance seat warmers or resume builders. Your application must demonstrate a genuine interest in the organisation as well as your capacity and capability to undertake the role, all of which needs to be succinctly communicated in a two-page cover letter.

Your CV/Profile: Whilst the standard CV content is required to demonstrate your skills and experience, rework the format to align with a board role rather than management position. Being a Director is about leadership and direction, not management and operations, so adapt your profile to enable the selection panel to relate your application to the role of a Board member. 

The Interview stage

Suggestions to assist in this stage of the selection process include:

Be prepared: do some research on the industry, the organisation, the current Board, and past performance (annual reports will provide this). If you demonstrate that you have taken the time to learn as much as you can about these matters, you will leave a favourable impression on the selection panel. Simply stating your experience and skills, i.e. your CV, will not be sufficient to make you stand out from the pack.

Be yourself: Someone once said, “It’s hard enough being yourself; without trying to be someone else,” and this really does apply to an interview process. The selection panel will be looking for genuine people and they are usually good at identifying a contrived approach. Avoid clichés, overly dramatic language, management speak, acronyms, smirks, arrogance and self-praise. Let your genuine conversation demonstrate why you should be the one selected for the position.

Ask questions: Demonstrate that you have thought about and understand the role of the Board through the questions that you ask. Focus on the strategic level, not management and operations, establish that you know and understand the different roles and provide some insight on an issue or issues that will highlight that you have thought about and understand the critical nature of the position.

The Interview stage will provide you with an opportunity to demonstrate that by selecting you as the successful candidate, the organisation will be in a better position to continue its Mission. Remember, it’s not just about you; it’s about aligning your skills, and experience and what you can contribute with the current needs of the Board of the organisation.

Demonstrate that you will be a good cultural fit, that you can add real value to the organisation and that you are genuine in your desire to contribute – do all this and you should greatly enhance your chances of selection.

Good luck!

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