Serving on a board can be a challenging, invigorating, and rewarding experience … but it can also become a mind-numbing drain on your time, energy, and resources. There are many factors to consider as you weigh the time, the personal investment, and – at times – the risk involved with taking on such an important responsibility. Here are 5 questions to ask yourself as you evaluate whether to make the plunge by first checking to see if it’s the right fit for you.
1. What is your connection to the organization? Serving on a board involves a significant amount of time and effort, so you should only consider accepting a board appointment if you’re truly passionate about the organization’s mission. A good first step is to research who else currently serves on this board. Are these people you’ll enjoy spending time with, and with whom you believe you can collaborate for the betterment of a shared cause? If so, that sense of community can help offset the learning curve of getting used to board life.
2. How much time to do you have to volunteer? Even a good opportunity at the wrong time is actually a bad opportunity, and this maxim applies to board invitations too. How long is the board’s term? How will your life change in that time? Be honest with yourself about how much time you have to devote to the board, as well as your availability to travel, network, and speak on the organization’s behalf. If you have ample time to offer, and you feel energized by the challenge, that’s a good sign. But if you’ll feel overstretched by too many responsibilities, you should consider declining the offer. Otherwise, you’ll be short-changing each of your obligations in an effort to please everyone, and that’s impossible.
3. Does serving on a board align with your career goals? There can be several benefits to serving on a board, both for the organization and for you. One study found that “serving on a board increases an executive’s likelihood of being promoted as a first-time CEO to an S&P 1500 firm by 44 percent – and even if they weren’t promoted … serving boosts an executive’s subsequent annual pay by 13 percent.” Will you have an opportunity to learn from your fellow board members and organizational directors, and to strengthen your own skills? If so, that benefit makes your time investment doubly valuable – for them, and for you.
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4. What parts of your life will have to take a backseat to your new board role? You may have to rearrange your life in order to actively invest in your new board position. Ask yourself: how is the way I invest my time and energy today contributing to where I see myself headed tomorrow? What can you afford to cut back on, or eliminate completely? Spending less time on a hobby may be worth the experience of serving on a board, but if your job or your family commitments will suffer, that trade-off may not be worth it.
5. What do the other board members (or your mentor) have to say? Conduct a listening tour of current and former board members. Ask them how their board functions. Does the board work well together? What do they most enjoy about their board experience? What are the board’s biggest challenges? You may also find it helpful to consult with a mentor in your field and see how they think a board appointment might help you achieve your career goals. Take a few days to consider their responses before you make your final decision.
To be sure, a board appointment is an exciting opportunity to hone your communication and leadership skills while investing yourself personally in the long-term success of an organization. However, it’s also a serious commitment and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. If you conclude that this is not the right time, or that the organization’s goals don’t match well with your own, let the organization know that you may be interested in the future but you are not currently able to serve.
If you can’t accept their offer, consider who else you could recommend who may be able to serve in your place. And in any case, be sure to thank the board for the opportunity. An invitation to serve on a board means someone believes you possess the qualities that can help an organization improve, and that recognition is always an honor worth celebrating.