How to Get on Boards: 4 Renegade routes to your next paid board appointment



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by Tamara Paton in How to get on board

Today, I heard the question I hear most often:

“How can I win a paid board seat?”

This question is on the mind of every aspiring corporate director. Simultaneously, experts wring their hands over the lack of women and minorities around the board table. And yet there is an army of qualified candidates clamouring for the opportunity.

Few of us find board seats falling in our laps. Instead, we reach the board room by tenaciously building our skills and developing expertise that traditional board hot shots lack.

Let’s suppose you are already building your skills via non-profit board service and governance training. If you would like to parlay this into your first or your next paid board gig, here are some avenues to consider:


How to get on boards: Pro-bono consulting projects

What do the directors serving on the boards of BMO, Whole Foods and Walmart do in in their spare time? To support their communities, they create value on non-profit boards overseeing the San Francisco Ballet, Sick Kids and the Dallas Arboretum, among others.

Conventional wisdom suggests joining non-profit boards, in hopes that the experience will one day yield a paid board post. A more efficient and practical route might involve a short-term consulting assignment for the non-profit board that delivers value to the corporate directors you want to impress.

The key is to angle for face time with the board itself, not just the management team. Those with expertise related to strategy, facilitation, risk management, executive compensation or IT governance can often find discrete projects related to board-level issues.

After you have demonstrated your expertise, keep in touch with your new colleagues. You’ll be top of mind when they hear of a new board opening that aligns with the strong impression you made.

First steps: Identify directors who serve on the corporate boards that fit your expertise and interests. Then make a list of the non-profit boards that get their precious time.

How to get on boards: Corporate director resume books and job boards

If you have taken corporate governance training, you likely have access to some recruitment services. The National Association of Corporate DirectorsThe Institute for Corporate Directors, and The Directors College all match their graduates to new board assignments.

If you represent a visible minority, a number of programs offer opportunities to raise your profile in governance communities. Check out Diversity 50, Women on Board, the Director Diversity Initiative and programs supported by the Australian Institute of Corporate Directors.

First steps: Look way back into your past, all the way to your undergrad or MBA years. Your alma mater may have a corporate board recruiting service, just as grads of The Wharton School enjoy, for example. If your school doesn’t have a similar program, consider creating one on behalf of your fellow graduates. 

How to get on boards: Cooperative elections

A co-operative typically elects its board directly from its membership. The nomination and election process is transparent, with all steps and rules posted on the co-op’s website. If you are a member, you have a clear shot at a board seat.

Is there a co-operative on this list that aligns with your interests? We often think of co-operatives as small organizations, but co-ops are common among national retailers and financial services firms. MEC, REI, and VanCity are all examples of co-operatives that might welcome you into their membership and governance team.

First steps: Join the co-op as a member and take a look at the governance policy. You might need to wait a few years, make a few purchases, and/or vote in an election before being eligible to become a director.

How to get on boards: Private equity partnerships

Private equity firms often appoint independent directors to the boards of their portfolio companies. A little research on LinkedIn can reveal how you are connected with those who make these appointments.

First steps: Before joining a portfolio company board, I worked as a consultant to a PE shop. This gig gave me insight into the firm’s culture and revealed common expectations of independent directors. What services can you offer a PE firm or its portfolio company?

What routes to the boardroom have worked for you? In your desire to leave no stone unturned, where have you found opportunity?




How to Get on Boards: 4 Renegade routes to your next paid board appointment

by Tamara time to read: 3 min