Gaining a Role on a Not-for-Profit Board

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Over the past few weeks, I have been looking at the various types of boards. Today I would like to discuss one that’s probably my favourite: the Not-for-Profit Board.

The merits of serving on a Not-for-Profit board

Time after time I hear clients of mine articulate that they are not interested in any opportunities on Not-for-Profit boards. Sometimes with good reasons but often because they have not properly considered the opportunities and value that these organisations offer both professionally and personally.

To begin with, the title Not-for-Profit or Third Sector is a catch all for a wide and diverse range of organisation. Therefore, the opportunities available in this sector are not necessarily what you think they might be.

Some of the organisations we have recently advertised vacancies for in this space include:

  • Greenpeace, Amnesty International
  • Heart Foundation, Cancer Council, NfP Super Funds
  • Peak Bodies, Arts & Environmental Trusts, Health & Sports, Community Banks
  • Schools, Clubs, Foundations, Development or Religious Organisations

As you can see, the industries these organisations span include Finance, Industry, Sport, Community, Health, Housing, Education and Environment.

Are not-for-profit boards a great place to begin?

In some ways, I can say that beginning your board career on a not-for-profit board is good. The first thing that recruiting organisations look for in a successful board candidate is that they have been a successful board member in the past. Whilst NfP boards are often unpaid, they do offer numerous benefits; not least of which is that you can, once you have served on one of these boards, label yourself as a NED. A non-executive director title, even of a NfP organisation, can be a great leverage point for further board appointments.

However, a NfP board should not be seen to be a stepping stone to a for-profit board (though they can be) but moreover you should consider serving on one or beginning your board career here because:

  • You can easily find the details of board members and the layers of management between you and them are few. As such, you can contact them easily to pitch your offer as a Director.
  • A traditional NfP organisation often desire quality board members and your experience can be magnified.
  • They often advertise their vacancies – more than commercial organisations – as it is more acceptable to do so.
  • They are, in my experience, more often up for a conversation with proactive and interested candidates about adding a director to their board. Take the NfP I am on; we have a standing board member vacancy which is never advertised but we are always up for a conversation about how qualified candidates could help.

‘Significant people’ often serve on NfP boards

Conversations with numerous high profile board members who also sit on NfP boards (and not just the big ones) often reflect that it is these boards that, despite not being paid (or being paid poorly), they are most passionate about, enjoy contributing to the most (because they can get involved) and believe they make a real difference to.

Having done a recent review of the board members of major Australian banks, I can tell you that in all but a handful of cases, each Non-Executive Director on these bank boards also sit on the board of a NfP that they are presumably passionate about. Few of these NfP roles, if any, are paid.

Whilst you should never join a board just to network, joining these sorts of boards can lead to being connected, and having access to, very senior individuals who often have portfolio careers.

Again, I can assure you that even on small or seemingly insignificant boards, very significant board directors sit. Being part of this cohort of directors, and being good at it, can propel your board career forward.

Not-for-Profit boards you should consider

On this list, there are some significant NfPs that will be difficult to become a part of, but equally, there are some far more accessible.

  • Great Barrier Reef Foundation
  • Sydney Theatre Co.
  • Financial Markets Foundation for Children
  • Shakespear Co.
  • Heart & Research Institute
  • Victorian Opera Company
  • Red Cross Hong Kong
  • Australian War Memorial
  • Foundation for Very Special Kids
  • Sir Roland Wilson Foundation
  • National Museum Australian Museum
  • Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation
  • Murray Goulburn Co-Op
  • The Australian Ballet
  • Mission Australia
  • Melbourne Fashion Festival
  • Alannah and Madeline Foundation
  • Carey Baptist Grammar School
  • Diabetes Institute
  • Sydney Symphony Orchestra
  • St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research 

It takes effort

NfP boards are a great place to begin and there are many different types. Don’t be mistaken, though, to get a NfP board role often requires as much effort as finding a for-profit board.

Remember, you should never treat a NfP board as an easy ride to a better board. In fact, there is no science to suggest that a not-for-profit board will launch your board career to a better board. In fact, there are recruiters who purport that there is some science to suggest that the first sort of board role you accept pegs you firmly in that space and as such it will be the last sort of board directorship you will be appointed to. If true, you must think carefully about the scope and scale of the first role you take.

You should choose carefully and recognise that you still need to be clear about what you offer and how you can contribute and what your passion is for what they do.

Gaining a board appointment – whether in the Government, Not for Profit or Commercial sectors is highly competitive. As such you must know how to separate yourself from your competitors. We can help.

Have a look at our board vacancies page to see what Not-for-Profit Sector roles we have on offer.

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It is a pretty simple equation. The harder you work the luckier you get. The good news is that joining Board Direction means we do much of this work for you. All you need to do is log in and start applying for our exclusive board opportunities. Together with one of our bespoke Board CVs, you will quickly separate yourself from your competitors and truly dare them not to appoint you.

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About the Author

David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Direction – Australia’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world. He has been described as Australia’s leading board recruitment expert, is a published author, a regular speaker on the board appointment process and runs Board Search Masterclasses across Australia. He is one of Australia’s Top 10 LinkedIn users with over 26,000 connections. Email: ua.mo1716749137c.noi1716749137tceri1716749137ddrao1716749137b@tca1716749137tnoC1716749137