The Website and Blog of HR Author and Speaker Lori Kleiman

Joining a Non-Profit Board: The Key to Career Development

Learning a new skill can be a scary undertaking, especially if we are putting ourselves in front of peers and supervisors. But we have to experiment somewhere if we want to explore new areas and learn how to incorporate best practices into our current processes.

Many business leaders embrace the value of giving back, whether it be to the community, industry, profession or a cherished cause. There are endless intrinsic rewards for doing so, and many see it as a part of a fulfilling adult life. But have you ever considered how you can develop new skills as part of the relationship. Joining a non-profit board can be a very effective way to develop and practice skills that will move your career forward while providing these valuable connections.

When I had a growing consulting practice, it was a requirement that my team be involved in an outside non-profit. I find this type of involvement a critical part of the “whole” person and doing so brought a basket of opportunities for our organization. Many experts agree it is an excellent way to develop skills discussed in this article.

Some of the advantages gained included:

  • Networking and increased visibility of our organization – yes, this is a bit self-serving, but at the same time it taught the team that we are all in sales. Representing the organization meant that you were representing each member of the team, and the quality and professionalism we would bring if your contact selected us for a project. At the same time, it helped the individual gain public speaking experience, and learning to walk into the room of strangers without fear.
  • Sense of responsibility to the community –  We all hear about the entitlement generation. By engaging in non-profits, we teach employees that privilege comes with responsibility. If those of us in positions of power and expertise don’t help others, who will?
  • Teamwork – Its one thing to be part of an internal team at the organization sharing the same goals, culture, and norms. Being on a team outside the organization provides a exposure to unexpected obligations where there is minimal oversight and authority to ensure conformity to the group. Your top talent will have to work with the outside board to state their position, listen to others, determine the best solution, and ultimately come to consensus. These are skills that can be difficult to teach in a more homogeneous organization.
  • Skill Development – do you or your team members have little knowledge about accounting?  Volunteer to be the treasurer! Looking to learn more about social media – be the communication chair for your favorite organization. Non-profit organizations often have staff members in these areas that will guard against complete failure, and will be open and forthcoming with new ways to handle a function you may be less familiar with.

You have to be willing to “put your money where your mouth is”. Many non-profits have some sort of “give or get” requirement, which means that the members of the board have an amount each year they must donate, or raise through contributions. Be prepared to support your employee in this, it will provide a wonderful training ground as well as a connection you can share with stakeholders as a way the business gives back to the community – in both time and resources.

  1. Lori’s insights into the value of giving time, talent and treasure through nonprofit board service is spot on. The skill development opportunities to advance a professional career definitely make such a contribution and commitment worthwhile.

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