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How to Get a Seat on a Board of Directors

You barely have time to run your own company, let alone someone else’s. Why would you want to serve on a board of directors? For starters, supporting another business owner will take you out of your day-to-day routine and get you thinking creatively about another organization’s challenges. What’s more, being a board member can boost your credibility in the community, help you network with C-level professionals, fuel your professional development, and give you an opportunity to put skills you don’t typically tap to good use. Finding the right fit, however, may take some preparation and time. Here are a few strategies for finding your ideal match.

1. Think local. Serving on a local organization’s board of directors can be particularly beneficial if your products or services are geared toward people in your area. As a board member, you’ll be networking on a regular basis with potential and existing customers — who may have you at top of mind the next time they’re asked for a referral.

2. Go nonprofit. Board newbies are more likely find spots at nonprofits, which are usually unable to compensate directors and may require more work than private companies. This work can be rewarding if you believe in the organization’s mission.

3. Prove you’re an expert. By taking on public speaking gigs, developing a business blog, and writing a letter to (or an op-ed column for) a prominent publication, you can establish yourself as an expert in your industry or profession beyond just your title. This will help you appear worthy of a board seat. “The first thing a nominating committee will do is Google you,” says Susan Stautberg, president of PartnerCom, which helps companies set up advisory boards.

4. Be brave. If you don’t know someone who knows someone who can get you on a board, go straight to the source and ask for guidance. Find out when an organization starts reviewing its member roster, and ask what kind of directors it needs. For example, many organizations try to enlist a group of professionals with varied skill sets, such as a marketing expert, a financial expert, and a senior executive.

5. Promote your talents. Know what you bring to the table and make sure your prospects are aware of it. Boards need hiring experience (they’re the ones interviewing executive directors and executives), marketing expertise, technology know-how, and most of all, accounting acumen for reviewing budgets and financial records.

6. Open your wallet. Nonprofits need underwriters and are often willing to assign board seats as thank-yous. Some city boards have upwards of 50 directors. If you don’t have the money, or if it doesn’t make business sense to give a large donation, offer to help with fundraising. Before you take on any commitment, evaluate your capacity. You could be expected to serve for just one year or as long as five. And board seats often consume more hours than expected, including a ramp-up period, meetings, reviews of dense materials, and unexpected calls. Be sure your business can withstand your time away.

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