This post originally appeared on MoveUpGiveBack.org.
I have served on the governing board of organizations since my early 20s, and this experience has enriched my career and life immeasurably. Early on I received a crash course on the roles and responsibilities of governing board membership. Today, young leaders have more opportunity than ever to dive into board leadership through “young friend’s boards.” Organizations understand the value behind these early career board opportunities – they are great for helping build relationships with a new generation of leaders and help young people grow through teamwork, leadership and civic engagement activities.
But, when do you make the leap beyond a young friend’s board to the governing board? Baby boomers and Generation Xers still occupy most of the slots on governing boards, so at what point should young leaders seek to make their move? And how should you go about it?
- There is no right time. As a younger person, I was impatient. Some of the first jobs I applied for right out of college were executive director positions or senior leader roles. Yes, I did this with no experience and shaky but abiding confidence. Naturally, I would accept board opportunities when I was approached despite minimal experience. My years of serving in group settings and on committees prepared me for my work today. I did a lot of listening and asked a lot of questions. I spoke when I felt most passionate about an issue. Now might be your time.
- Differentiate yourself. You may not be an obvious choice for an organization looking for new governing board members. What can you add to the organization aside from your youth? Most Millennials are more advanced in the technology space – perhaps that’s your in? Or maybe you have some other skill or point of view that is useful? One of my early board experiences was with the group home where I lived for a stint as a kid. Do you have a personal connection to an organization, community center, boys and girls club, or scouting organization? Even if you aren’t in your hometown these are valuable connections that can be used in other communities. This could be your differentiator.
- Allow yourself to be mentored. Business, including in the nonprofit space, happens through relationships. Typically, people join boards through a personal recommendation – someone has to know you. Because those board spots are currently occupied by the boomers and Gen Xers, and will be for the foreseeable future, identify someone in that generation to mentor you. If you have identified a cause or governing board that you’d like to serve on, ask an existing board member to serve as your “civic mentor.” Be forthright about your intentions by saying something like, “I am very interested in serving on the board of the symphony. As a kid, music was an important outlet for me, and I want to help more kids connect to the symphony and become lifelong lovers of the arts.” Do you have a civic mentor or someone in mind?
While governing boards will do wonders for your business network, the key is to serve where you are passionate. Only lend your time and voice to a cause that you genuinely care about. It will sustain you when the business of governing becomes mundane, as it surely will from time to time.