Upgrade Your Volunteer Board Experience

By: Kristin Clarke

Three ways to get the most from your board service.

The addition of one more thing to your workload may not appeal, but volunteering to serve on a board of directors can be worthwhile—if you're strategic. For Fritzi Woods, president and CEO of the Women's Foodservice Forum and a mother of five, the key is creating a valuable experience for herself and the board.

A veteran of multiple nonprofit, corporate, and academic boards and advisory groups, she urges women in particular to volunteer for governing slots. "I've found my experience on volunteer boards has been a catalyst for my opportunities to be on paying boards," Woods says.

She lists four essentials that a professional should bring to any board term: passion, skill, time, and the ability to advocate. It's hard work, Woods says, "but I've gotten more from the give-back in [terms of] relationships, learning, hearing different points of view, understanding board dynamics, and especially learning how to navigate a group of people to get focused on the most important issues."

Here are her tips for how to get the most from any board role and give your best to the organization you're serving:

  1. Choose a board that needs your unique skills and perspective. Identify where you think you can contribute value. "You have to understand the strategy of the organization because that way you know how to plug in," Woods says.
  2. Be passionate about the mission, so you can advocate authentically on its behalf.
  3. Pass it forward. If you're short on resources or the position is misaligned with your current goals, "find somebody else who does have the skill set the organization's looking for, which you should have in your network, and then invite them into your circle," she says. "It's not that women are short of talent; we're short of access."

Woods notes that once access opens, senior volunteer options start to abound: "You're doing yourself a disservice to not take the opportunity to serve on nonprofit boards, because you get great opportunities to build relationships and, more importantly, you get the [chance] to do some great work."

Kristin Clarke is a business journalist and writer for ASAE. Email: [email protected]

Woods will lead a Game Changer session at ASAE's 2012 Annual Meeting & Expo in Dallas, August 11-14.

Kristin Clarke

Kristin Clarke is books editor for Associations Now and a business journalist and sustainability director for ASAE.