How Being on a Nonprofit Board Can Be the Unexpected Career Boost You Need
In the years before life was dominated by work and a social calendar was more than just a seemingly constant rotation of routine happy hours and lunch dates, it was a whole lot easier to be a joiner. Do you remember those days? When it was totally cool to try out ballet or softball just because it sounded fun? The days when weekly Girl Scout meetings were a great excuse to spend time with new friends and to work on crafts and activities that you would never have tried otherwise? Outside of snow days and macaroni and cheese, the natural inclination we had as kids to experience new things might be what we miss most about childhood.
While there are certainly fewer opportunities to be a joiner in adulthood, not all hope is lost. Nonprofit organizations are great places to give your time and talent, and they can be super fun too. You can find these opportunities through networking or sites like BoardnetUSA.org or LinkedIn. Taking on leadership roles within these kinds of groups can also really pay off career-wise. Michele Romanow — serial entrepreneur and star of Canadian TV show Dragons’ Den — joined her first nonprofit board six years ago, and has since served on the board of four organizations. We spoke to Romanow and a team of active millennial board leaders to learn more about how this brand of joining can help you grow professionally. Here are six experiences you’ll have on a nonprofit board that will enhance your performance at your day job.
1. You’ll expand your circle. It often feels like networking is the name of the game in all aspects of life (after all, how many times have you heard the phrase, “it’s all about who you know?”), so why not give yourself a leg up by opting into an elective community of passionate, proactive people who share your interests and goals? The contacts you make as a young board member can certainly pay off with job offers, mentorship, and more. “From fellow board members to the organization’s leadership, staff, and donors, serving on a board helps you build a valuable network that can lead to career growth and investment opportunities — and even long-lasting friendships,” Romanow says.
Drew Gannon, who serves on the board of Teach for America’s New York Alumni Association, echoes Romanow’s thoughts, adding that her involvement on the board over the last year has also improved her networking chops. “I have developed some serious skills in finding, contacting, and connecting with people,” she says. “Having the skills to navigate diverse conversations and still connect with [TFA alumni] has been a new challenge. I’ve also developed the mindset that networking isn’t horrible. In fact, it’s pretty awesome!”
2. You’ll inspire change. Are you tired of feeling like your reputation as a millennial has preceded you? Are you so over comments about how 20- and 30-somethings just can’t keep their hands off their devices? Pursuing involvement on a nonprofit board may be the perfect opportunity to show just how useful your millennial mindset can be within an organization. “Since many nonprofits have small staffs and low budgets, they’ve likely continued to do things the same way for quite some time and may not be utilizing technology to help streamline and simplify day-to-day processes,” Romanow says. “As a young professional on a nonprofit board, you can introduce new ideas that spark positive change and forward motion for an organization you love.”
3. You’ll learn about yourself. Every time you step out of your comfort zone to meet new people and try new things, you’re creating an opportunity (all on your own!) for personal growth — and as you become a more dynamic and well-rounded individual, you’ll become that much more powerful and creative in your professional life. Learning more about your strengths (and, yes, even your weaknesses) will also be a great asset for future job searches because you’ll be better prepared to speak openly to a potential new boss about what you can bring to a workplace and what you still need to learn.
Alyson Weiss, who was elected to the board of directors for the Young Professionals Network of Boston in January 2016, has experienced this personal growth, along with its professional benefits. “I have learned a lot about myself, my strengths and growth areas as a leader, and how to adjust my communication and facilitation style for different people and scenarios,” she says. “I have also become much more comfortable diving into a project outside of my comfort zone.” Weiss notes that she’s been able to apply all of these lessons to her day job, working as an alumni relations officer at Tufts University.
4. You’ll feel more fulfilled in your life. The best way to break out of a personal or professional rut is to shake up your routine. Putting yourself out there by volunteering for a nonprofit — and then turning up the heat by committing to serve on the board — is an ideal approach to challenging the norm. “Joining a nonprofit board is a great way to give back and feel fulfilled in your professional life,” Romanow says. “By serving on the board of an organization that promotes a cause you care about, you’ll be able to channel your own creative energy into initiatives that give back to your community.” You’ll be able to take that creative energy and sense of purpose and put it to even more good use at your nine-to-five.
5. You’ll beef up your resume. With your college days behind you, you may find yourself wondering how you can develop the professional skills that you need to advance your career. Look no further than joining a board. Your duties will, of course, offer great real-world leadership experience, but Romanow also notes that your fellow board members — who will likely come from multiple industries, skill sets, and perspectives — can offer valuable mentorship and advice too.
Brandi George, who was elected to the board of northeastern Pennsylvania’s Gaslight Theatre Company in 2012, says her position has given her the chance to develop strong marketing skills. She’s also learned to confidently embrace a diverse range of tasks. Everything from “overseeing marketing efforts, redesigning and maintaining our website, operating our social media, writing press releases, coordinating interviews and publicity, and occasionally doing graphic design work” has fallen within George’s jurisdiction at some point over the last five years. “There’s so much I learn in both my role as a board member and as a working professional that influences the other,” she says. “If you join [a board] just to have it on your resume, you might as well dig in and really expand your skill set or tackle unfamiliar territory.”
6. You’ll become a better leader. Outside the typical hierarchies of an office environment, you’ll be surprised how much leeway you’ll have to grow as a leader. “One of my favorite parts of a board meeting is the incredible bird’s-eye view you get into a totally different leadership team,” Romanow says. “This always forces me to reflect on my own leadership and take new ideas back to my own company.”
Gannon, Weiss, and George all listed leadership skills among the most significant lessons learned as part of their respective boards. More specifically, Gannon cites her experiences speaking in front of hundreds of Teach for America alumni. “This has helped me in my current job, where I speak with authority to rooms full of principals and deans who once coached me,” she says. “And the confidence I have in myself and my ideas will be invaluable in the future.”
How has being on a nonprofit board — or getting involved with a nonprofit in some other way — helped you at work? Tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photo via Getty)