Taking on a board position should provide mutual value for the individual and the organisation; while the organisation gains the useful skills and perspectives of its board, the board members also gain valuable experience from widening their portfolio and giving back. Taking on a board position should be a positive step and we hope the following tips will be useful for this process.
Is this the right opportunity for you?
Further to the organisation website, most board searches will provide some form of candidate pack, detailing further information about the organisation and the responsibilities/expectations of the role, as well as a contact who will be able to discuss finer details and answer questions. Making use of these resources is a recommended first step to understanding whether a board position is right for you.
Ensuring that you thoroughly understand their mission and work is a vital first step. Even if you are aware of the organisation previously many organisations have evolved their goals and services over time. A board member is not only an ambassador for an organisation but also responsible for making sure the organisation’s work and actions are aligned with the overall mission, therefore affirming that you thoroughly understand and are able to support this vision is paramount.
Information provided will also cover the responsibilities, legal duties and expected commitment which should also be considered carefully. Organisations will do their best to be upfront about the time commitment involved which will commonly include main board meetings, subcommittee meetings, meeting preparation and follow up, and ad hoc support to the executive group.
Other areas to consider early are if there are any potential conflicts of interest in regards to how your executive work may overlap with taking on this board role. Not all conflicts will exclude you from becoming a board member and so if in doubt it is best to ask the organisation you are looking to apply to directly. If you require your employers permission/support to take on additional external responsibilities this is also a good thing to explore early.
Are you the right candidate for this role?
Most board searches will have specific skill sets and experience in mind for the board members they are seeking and will set this out in the person specification of their adverts and packs. The skills specified are usually decided upon following a thorough skills audit of the board and take into account future strategy. Take the time to read and understand this section carefully. While it is important to understand what the organisation is looking for it is also important not to discount yourself unnecessarily. For example, an organisation may advertise for three different skill sets as they are looking to take on multiple board members and are not looking for one candidate to fulfil all three. Furthermore, an organisation may advertise an overarching skill such as “fundraising”, and then list areas of interest within this sector such as grassroots fundraising, institutional fundraising or experience with high net worth individuals – the board is most likely looking for a variety of candidates within this sector and is not necessarily expecting candidates to have in depth experience in all three areas.
The person specification may also set out other areas of interest to the board, such as personal experience or previous governance experience for example. While these are important to consider they should not be seen as pre-requisites for the role; searches are mostly skills first processes. If not having previous board experience is a concern for you, consider other areas of your experience you can highlight that demonstrate your understanding of governance and the function of boards; for example your own interactions with board groups.
If you are in doubt, the contact provided with the advert should be able to discuss this further with you.
Most board application processes will require a CV, cover letter and an interview stage.
When reviewing your CV, make sure that it is up to date and contains all relevant information of your executive and non-executive experience. It is important to remember that your CV will be viewed by individuals who will likely not be from your sector or industry. Try to consider whether your CV is accessible to a layman, avoid using sector specific jargon, and ensure that your skills and experience are clear.
When producing a cover letter, one or two sides is recommended. The cover letter is an opportunity to expand on the experience listed in your CV, using examples where appropriate, and also to detail further relevant experience external to your executive work. Setting out your motivation for applying for the position is also key. Focusing on how you connect to the mission and values of the organisation and then tying this into how you feel your skills can support/achieve these goals is good basic structure. Looking to the person specification provided is useful for this stage.
Having viewed your application the selection panel may invite you to interview. Looking through the organisation website, latest annual reports and any strategy documents available is a good way to prepare for this stage. Interview structures will vary between organisations but the common goal of selection panels is to understand your experience and how it may benefit the board, and also ensure that you understand their organisation and would be committed to the work involved. A further point not to underestimate is personality, as the cultural dynamics of a board are also important, so do not be afraid to make your personality and style plain. The interview is also an opportunity for you to understand the organisation, its goals and its culture better, so asking questions is always recommended.
Hopefully you will be successful in your application but in the case you are not, understanding feedback can be very useful for future applications. It is important to note that board searches are often quite competitive processes and so therefore if you did fit the brief well it is likely you may have been simply pipped to the post by another candidate fitted the position better in some way – that is to say that an unsuccessful outcome should not be taken a reflection of your potential as a board member. If you reached the interview stage of the process then it is likely that feedback will be available to you. If there were questions marks raised about your skills, experience or motivation then absorbing this feedback and emphasising these areas in future applications is a good way forward.