Board Service 101: How ‘Paying it Forward’ Pays Off

Nonprofit Board Service Panel 2Serving on a nonprofit board can be a win-win proposition: the organization gains your expertise, while you fulfill a personal desire to give back. And the experiences you gain through board service can also be a boon to your own career.

“Board service is often a starting point,” said Susan Kelly, ’96, director of the Art of Youth Foundation. She was one of three speakers who highlighted the benefits of board service during a panel discussion at the 2017 Booth Women Connect Conference. 

With boards playing a bigger role in strategic leadership decisions at many nonprofits, there are now more opportunities to serve on a board in a way that helps to push your career forward, Kelly told moderator Christina Hachikian, AB ’02, MBA ’07, executive director of Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation.

Here are three things to know before jumping in:

Start small

When it comes to nonprofit work, knowing how to choose opportunities early in one’s career can be difficult, Kelly told the audience. Many people are eager to start off on a governing board right away, but sometimes coming in as a program volunteer can be beneficial. Kelly herself started volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities prior to taking a finance role on its board years later. “You may want a broader experience, and you’ll get there, but it’s OK to start elsewhere,” she said.

Let your interests be your guide

When selecting a nonprofit board, find the right fit. Identifying with the mission can help you stay committed, said Maria Constantinides, ’83, who launched her own nonprofit consulting firm. Whether your interests include children’s issues, healthcare, or the arts, you’ll find it easier to move forward if you develop your own niche. “Board service is about giving back, but you have to have the motivation internally,” she told the audience. 

Don’t be surprised by a career change

Panelist Scott Humphrey has long served on boards, but it was only when he retired from his role as vice chairman at BMO Capital Markets that he decided to pursue a career that incorporated his board service experience. In 2015 he transitioned from the corporate world to become president and CEO of One Hope United, a nonprofit focused on children and families. A longtime board member at the nonprofit, he had already worked alongside many of his new colleagues, which made the transition easier. “They had some comfort in selecting me [as president],” he said.

Booth Women Connect Conference is organized by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The annual event brought together more than 1,000 professionals for an extraordinary day of bold ideas, spirited discussion, practical insights, and impactful networking. Join us for next year’s conference on October 12, 2018.

—By Alina Dizik

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