Securing your first board seat requires careful planning and a well-thought-out strategy. Follow these tips to join that board you're always sought.
From helping more than expected to relying on networking, here are the 12 answers to the question, “For those who have served on a board of directors for a business, company, or bank, how did you land your first board seat? “
What is a Board Seat?
A board seat refers to a board member’s eligibility (and responsibility) to engage in critical decision-making on behalf of the enterprise organization, company, or nonprofit. Board of director responsibilities are outlined in the board’s bylaws, a legal document that defines the procedures for running an organization.
Getting your first board seat will require some research, outreach, and self-awareness of the strengths you could bring to the table as a potential board member, your interests and passions, and the type of organization you want to associate with.
Here’s a look at 12 tips from board experts on how they secured board seats, and what you should do to join their ranks:
1. Join as Both an Investor and Advisor
“As the company felt the same way, it was logical that I take a seat on the board, both as someone close to the growth strategy of the company and as a representative of my investor group.”
2. Seek the Right Opportunities
“Serving on a board is a serious time commitment. I didn’t rush the first chance I got. Assess whether this is an organization that interests you and where you would be able to grow as well as contribute significantly, considering the strengths you would bring to the position. Further, when you finally enter the boardroom, you’ll want to maximize your time there.”
3. Connect With the CEO
“I landed my first board seat through a connection with the CEO of the company. He had been on a board where I had served, and my work impressed him. He reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in joining the board of his company. I accepted, and it was a great experience.”
4. Volunteer Your Time at a Local NonProfit
“My first board seat was with a local nonprofit organization, where I had been volunteering my time since 2010.
Through this volunteer work, I gained exposure to various facets of the nonprofit sector and showed a commitment to their mission. My role on the board provided me with an opportunity to bring my knowledge and experience to the organization and contribute to the development of meaningful initiatives.
As a board member, I assisted in overseeing operations and worked to ensure the mission was being achieved in an efficient manner. My contributions were recognized by the other board members, who decided to appoint me as a permanent seat on their board.”
5. Make Yourself Visible and Speak Up
“I’ve been working at our company since 1993 and became president in 2000. The following year, I was named CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors. That’s a pretty fast climb from college grad to Chairman, and I credit it to two things: making myself and my work visible, and speaking frankly about my intentions and opinions.
“These tie into each other, too. I was very open about my goals of joining a board of directors from the start, and this frankness attracted the necessary mentors and guidance in the organization.
“It meant that I had a sense of direction and could focus my efforts toward that larger goal without forgetting the day-to-day goals of my current position. I was unafraid to list my achievements and kept a quantifiable record that I could reference if needed.
“By vouching for myself and being open about what I wanted, the path became clear and people who could help me knew where to find me.”
6. Be Determined
“Landing my first seat on the board of a major business was no small feat. It took hard work, dedication, and a focused eye on my longterm career goals. Many people say that it’s not what you know, but who you know that leads to success—this couldn’t have been more true for me.
“Using my network of professional contacts to introduce myself to the business leadership team, I eventually landed an opportunity to be interviewed for the early-stage development project that the then-startup was taking on. During this three-hour meeting, I realized just how important as well as satisfying it would be to serve on such a high-ranking board—never mind starting out.
“After passing their intricate interview process and finally being accepted to take a seat, I could feel that something magical was about to occur and immediate successes began taking shape in all aspects of the organization. One thing is most certain: no road is too long if one is determined enough.”
7. Practice Patience
“Landing a seat on my first board of directors for a health care business was an incredible accomplishment, and it has its roots in my MD credentials. After earning the MD, I networked with those in the medical field and identified the right individuals to make a good case for taking a board position.
“From there, I made sure I researched what people expected of health care businesses and wrote thoughtful comments as an observer during meetings as part of working toward becoming a long-term member.
“Finally, after demonstrating my commitment and knowledge through volunteer experiences, I applied for and fulfilled my first board seat. Serving on a board has been an invaluable experience that has enriched my view of effective operations within the health care system.”
8. Publish and Share Your Expertise
“I landed my first board seat as a director through an article I wrote for a health website. The CEO of a health-tech company noticed it, and then reached out to me and asked me to join the company’s board.
“After some discussion about my qualifications and experience, they offered me the role. It was an unexpected honor, and I’m very proud of my accomplishments. This experience taught me the importance of networking and leveraging my skill set to get noticed. It also showed me that with the right attitude, hard work, and dedication, anything is possible.”
9. Acquire a Majority Stake in a Start-Up
“Having a seat on any board is a highlight of an illustrious career. I got my first board seat after securing a majority stake in a small local start-up. Because of being the principal investor, they awarded me the much-coveted seat.
“It signified my achievements in the field of commerce since it’s a mark of honor to be accorded that position. Boards are the epicenter of organizations’ operations. It’s where the members deliberate on the most effective way the company will operate to achieve its mandate.”
10. Join in With Charitable Networking
Connections are the primary key to achieving a seat on a board of directors. My first position came about through networking at charity fundraisers. By becoming involved in community events, I met others who shared the same passion. This connection led to an invitation to be a part of the board driving the charity.
“Serving on that first board allowed me to expand new connections and eventually led to offers from other boards.”
11. Know the Role and Your Capabilities
“I served in a bank as a talent manager. My purpose was to make a plan for hiring, compensation, and succession. I have always been good at managing things according to plan, and I love to run things on schedule.
“So, I presented myself as an expert in management in an interview and landed my first board seat. The most important thing which I want everyone to consider before applying for any board seat is to know your role first, what are your capabilities, and how flexible you are.”
12. Rely on Networking, Not Recruiting
“It is well said that reference matters a lot. So, instead of relying on recruiting, one must rely on making connections.
“When I didn’t have the leverage of a board seat and wanted to apply for one as an expert advisor in career counseling, I tried my best to make connections with those who are already board members, and it took me almost two months to finally have a contact with a senior advisor counselor.
“I exchanged some words with him at dinner and shared my knowledge and future motives with him, and he helped me a lot in securing the board seat as an expert advisor of counseling.”
You’ve Learned How to Secure a Board Seat. Now What?
Congratulations! You’re ready to seek out your first board seat (or maybe the board seat you’ve always wanted). You’ve taken one of the 12 steps listed above (or maybe followed other successful tips). How can you make an immediate impact?
If your board is still using paper-bound board books, sending communication through insecure emails, or using other outdated board management methods, this might be a good opportunity to introduce your new colleagues to board intelligence solutions. From secure messaging to meeting analytics to agenda builder templates, board management software saves time, provides a single source of truth for board members, and provides security in a world with increasing cyber concerns.
Consider OnBoard’s board intelligence solution, and if your fellow board members are skeptical, talk them into a free trial to see if this solution is the right one for your organization.
About The Author
- Adam Wire is a Content Marketing Manager at OnBoard who joined the company in 2021. A Ball State University graduate, Adam worked in various content marketing roles at Angi, USA Football, and Adult & Child Health following a 12-year career in newspapers. His favorite part of the job is problem-solving and helping teammates achieve their goals. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and two dogs. He’s an avid sports fan and foodie who also enjoys lawn and yard work and running.
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