This is a guest post by entrepreneur, Mark Rogers
Most entrepreneurs have their own board of directors, yet very few serve on others, despite the mass of experience they could gain from joining one.
Many want to serve on a board — for professional development, business development, or perhaps just to give back to their community through a non-profit organization — yet don’t know how to get themselves there and don’t have the free time to figure it out.
The overwhelming majority of board members obtained their board seats by knowing the right people. But what do you do when you don’t know anyone on a particular board or its management team and you want to get involved?
Understand the Recruitment Process
The boardroom recruitment process differs depending upon the structure of each company. For example, a public company has a fairly sophisticated process that entails shareholder approval. For most non-profits and non-closely held private companies the process for appointing new board members usually begins with the board’s nominating committee. This process is less than sophisticated.
The committee usually convenes a few months before director terms are set to expire and begins identifying candidates. Most often, this is done through the old-fashioned “who do you know” conversation.
Manage Your Expectations
Despite the wealth of knowledge/experience you’ve gained from starting your own business, it’s important to manage your expectations. For example, it is not realistic to assume that a young entrepreneur working on his/her first company, with no boardroom experience, is going to be appointed to the board of directors of a public company (or for that matter even a successful private company).
There are many factors that go into being selected to join a board, including but not limited to: age, diversity, experience, and expertise. Thus, it is best to view boardroom service in the same way you do their professional career – as a series of stepping stones.
Make Yourself an Attractive Candidate
Keeping in mind the need to manage expectations and the criteria for board selection, it’s important to also remember that as an entrepreneur you naturally have a lot to offer a board, and you should be confident in that.
Here is a 10-step process to use your strengths as an entrepreneur to get yourself a board seat:
- Identify 2-3 non-profit organizations and/or startups whose mission you feel a connection with or whose business aligns with your expertise;
- Determine what qualities, experiences, expertise you could offer this organization that would make you a valuable asset to this board;
- Find out everything you can about these organizations – go to their websites, become familiar with their programs, identify who serves on the management team and board of directors;
- See what events the organization may have coming up (a cocktail party, gala, golf outing) and attend one or all of those events;
- Introduce yourself to members of the management team and board. Make sure to express your interest in learning more about the organization and perhaps becoming more involved;
- Use online networks and communities to highlight your expertise and show your qualifications as a board member (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, Industry forums, etc.);
- Make your presence felt. As an entrepreneur this will come more natural to you, so if the opportunity presents itself – have your company sponsor an upcoming event the organization is hosting;
- Network-network-network – with management, board members, and, for non-profit organizations, their donors. You’re probably pretty comfortable with this process already, but it’s important to remember that this can be done both in-person and online through professional social networking sites;
- Despite the fact that you are pressed for time, be willing to volunteer at events and serve on committees;
- Finally, if after all this you believe that you could contribute to this board, make your interest known to the organization.
Most of the above steps are not exclusive to entrepreneurs looking to join their first board, regardless of your age, experience and expertise, the key is networking and promoting yourself as a ready and willing board member.
Above all, be patient. Opportunities will present themselves if you are strategic in your networking efforts.
Mark Rogers is the founder and CEO of BoardProspects, an online professional community dedicated to building better boards for private, public, and non-profit organizations. Prior to founding BoardProspects, Rogers was partner at a law firm in Boston, advising non-profit and for-profit entities on corporate governance and boardroom matters. Contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.