How to Become a Board Member

A Step-By-Step Guide for Women on Joining Nonprofit and Corporate Boards

 

Could Board Membership Be Your Next Step?

If you’re a female leader in your organization, you’ve probably made a lot of big moves in your career so far. Maybe you’re in the role you’ve always dreamed about. Maybe you have a job title you never expected by way of rewarding twists and turns. But one thing’s for certain: You’re the woman people come to when they have tough problems to solve. You don’t shy away from the hard questions; you embrace them.

Other companies need your expertise, guidance, and grit. Whether you’re a director considering joining a corporate board, or an individual contributor hoping to land a nonprofit board seat, this guide is for you. 

Ready to take the next step in your career? Let’s leap!

 

Why Do Boards Need Women Like You?

Research shows that having women on boards is good for the bottom line.* Fortune 500 companies with higher percentages of female board members outperform competitors in return on equity, invested capital, and sales. Having female board members also helps organizations attract and retain top female talent. The top 20 largest companies in the world all have at least one woman on their boards.** But, tokenism is not enough.

  • 20%

    of board seats in the S&P 500 are held by women **

  • In Tech

    14.5%

    of the total board seats are held by women **

  • Companies with the highest percentage of female board directors outperform those with the least by

    66%

    in return on invested capital *

  • It takes at least

    3

    women in a board room for there to be a measurable impact on performance **

Women need to start positioning themselves to fill board seats so that there's a more robust pipeline of qualified candidates. Representation matters at every level. Getting that seat at the table isn't just good for businesses: it's good for women's careers, growth, and the impact we can have on our own industries and passions.

 

Board of Directors 101

Wait a second. Before we explore the application process, what actually is a board of directors? Check out these articles and online resources to learn more about board roles and responsibilities.

We know you’re busy. That’s why we’ve centralized the resources you need to guide you through the process of joining a board. We’ll walk you through how to prepare for, apply for, interview for, and evaluate board positions, sharing key advice from women currently on boards along the way.

questions_ about_boards
20 Frequently Asked Questions About Boards

This article by 2020 Women on Boards answers all your questions about what a board of directors is, who comprises it, and what members are required to do.

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What is a Corporate Board of Directors?

What are the main responsibilities and structure of a corporate board? Find out here.

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nonprofit_board_responsibilities
Learn What Nonprofit Boards Really Do

This online course explores the roles and responsibilities of boards of directors in governing nonprofit organizations.

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Using This Guide

We know you’re busy. That’s why we’ve centralized the resources you need to guide you through the process of joining a board. We’ll walk you through how to prepare for, apply for, interview for, and evaluate board positions, sharing key advice from women currently on boards along the way.

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Prepare

Find the ideal organization and position for your skillset.

››
how_to_get_on_a_board_of_directors_apply

Apply

Revamp your professional profile for the process.

how_to_get_on_a_board_of_directors_interview

Interview

Learn how to interview for a seat at the table.

how_to_get_on_a_board_of_directors_evaluate

Evaluate

Gauge if it's the right fit and make your decision.

PREPARE

final2-1.pngOn average, it takes 2.3 years for a woman to get on a corporate board, so the earlier you can start sowing the seeds for boardmembership, the better. Often, companies have a "don't call us, we'll call you" mentality, which means that the best thing you can do if you're interested in joining a board is make yourself easily discoverable.

Excelling at your craft, building your brand, and networking widely are great ways to make sure you are "found" when companies and nonprofit organizations go looking for new board members. Of course, you can also do some active searching. But before you begin advancing your candidacy, take time to reflect on and articulate your personal and professional values, passions, and goals.

Step 1: Get Good...Then Get Even Better

Boards are looking for the best of the best to advise them. This often means they aren’t interested in “jacks of all trades,” but, rather, individuals with deep expertise in a particular area. Wherever you are in your career, the best thing you can do as an aspiring board member is develop a niche expertise. Become a marketing guru or the top performing sales rep. Women who have mastered financial and regulatory audits are in high demand, as are succession planning experts. In tech, where most companies are focused on growth and strategy, experience with data, digital transformation, cybersecurity, and technology-enabled innovation are huge assets.

The takeaway: Whatever your thing is, own it. Realize what you're good at, but also realize where you could learn more. The more experience and education you have, the more qualified you’ll be. So raise your hand: force yourself to understand financials, get P&L (profit and loss) responsibility, and dig into better understanding board governance.

Step 2: Build Out Your Personal Brand

Once you’ve found your “niche,” you need to build a brand and awareness around it. Write a blog, contribute to Medium publications, post on social media, share your work on LinkedIn, and speak at conferences or professional meetings. Remember, you are responsible for your own self-promotion, so don’t be shy. Reach out to magazine and newspaper editors of business and trade-specific publications, offer quotes, and volunteer to be a subject matter expert. Board search committees look to media to see who is contributing to the conversation and who is being featured. You can make sure your name is where they are looking by signing up for services, like HARO (Help a Reporter Out), which allow you to monitor source requests from journalists that are relevant to your industry, expertise, or personal experience.

If people don’t know you or know about you, they can’t tell anyone about you.
  1. 5 Ways to Build Your Personal Brand

    Learn how to carve out time during your current job to make strides in building both your personal brand and your company’s brand.

Step 3: Do Some Personal Reflection 

This might be the hardest part of the whole preparation process, and it’s all about answering one central question: What do you you really want? Before you go any further, reflect on why you want to join a board. What skills do you have to offer? What skills do you hope to gain? Write down (yes, actually write them down) your personal career objectives. Articulating your motives when you start your research will help you narrow down what kind of board position might be a best fit. 

Board culture- (5).png

With your goals top of mind, you'll next need to determine which type of board of you want to join: Corporate or nonprofit? Be aware that corporate board positions are much harder to come by and usually require previous C-level experience. However, don't be aftaid to start small. Joining a nonprofit or startup boards can be a great way to get your feet wet with board governance and financial decision making. These positions can also help you get exposure to and build relationships with the people who sit on corporate boards, if that’s something you’d like to pursue in the future.

If you decide that nonprofit is the path for you, then what kind? Board work is WORK. It will take your time, energy, and passion, so find a nonprofit that aligns with your interests. Whether it's environmental, social justice, education, health care, or women’s issues, find an organization in that field and dive in. Study their website, read their publications, attend their events, and talk to current volunteers. Even consider joining as a member or volunteering yourself 

The most important question I ask is "Am I passionate about this organization and what it is trying to accomplish?" If I am not fascinated up front, it can turn into a burden.

Step 4: Network Like It's Your Job

Ok, you've decided what type of board you want to join. But, did you know that 92% of board seats are filled through networking? Because smaller companies often have smaller boards and smaller budgets to conduct searches for diverse candidates, existing board members will often appoint people from their networks. Due to this sourcing method, these networks remain majority white male.

Relationships matter, so, if you want to be on a board, you need to get yourself into the right circles. The easiest way to do this is to 1) show up and 2) advertise that you’re looking. You should never try to be a board member for an organization you aren't already familiar with in some way. Instead, start out as a member. Talk to board members of organizations you work with or admire, and ask them how they got there. For corporate boards, you may need to advertise your search more broadly: Add it to your LinkedIn profile byline. Reach out to board recruiters. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Go to industry events.

Board culture- (3).png

You may be thinking, “I’m a spouse; I’m a mother; I have a full-time job. How am I supposed to make time to get exposure outside of work?”

Highly-sought-after board member Amy Chang, who sits on the board of Cisco Systems and the advisory board of HubSpot, offers this advice: “I take one meeting a week with people who are not directly involved in my precise work. You are not going to have chemistry with 9/10 of them, but 1/10 will yield a connection that you can nurture. Nobody has time for eveything, but aspire to one meeting per week. It allows serendipity to happen a lot more easily.”

While most female board members report that their positions came as a result of knowing current members of the board they joined, it doesn't mean that you have to rely on your network alone. Ask leaders at your company if they know any organizations looking for potential board members, or if they would be willing to introduce you to board members in their network. Conversely, if you're an executive looking to help close the gender gap, offer to mentor a woman at your company positioning herself to apply for board membership. Networking is a team sport.

  • Nataly_Kelly_Women_on_Board
    When I see an organization doing great work, I often reach out to them to offer my help in the areas in which I have expertise. Even if they are not looking for that now, they might be at a later time.

    Nataly Kelly , VP of International Operations & Strategy, HubSpot

    Editorial Board Member, MultiLingual & Board Member, National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (formerly)

  • As CEO, I’ve learned that I have a responsibility to connect the remarkable women I know with my larger executive network, so that when board seats become available, there’s a steady stream of female candidates who I’ve endorsed and supported at the front of the line.

    Brian Halligan , CEO & Founder, HubSpot

    Fleematics Board Member (formerly)

  1. find_female_board_members

    Connect With Companies Looking for Female Board Members

    Not sure where to start your search? The Boardlist helps organizations with an open board seat find qualified female candidates. You can research companies, upload your own information, and start finding opportunities today.

    Join Now ››
  2. nonprofit_boards

    Find Your Perfect Nonprofit Match

    Finding the right nonprofit board to join is is a lot like finding a partner. This website helps nonprofit boards and leaders find each other. You can also search for open board positions at Volunteermatch.org and Idealist.org!

    Search Now ››

APPLY

When you've identified an organization or company that you are interested in and that's hiring a new board member, it's time to apply. Follow these steps to learn how to present yourself as the best candidate for the job

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Step 1: Articulate Your Value Proposition

At this point in the process, you’ve done the hard thinking. Now it’s time to put it into words — AKA, your pitch. Honestly assess your experience, figure out what you do uniquely well, and make sure it aligns with what the board needs. Most importantly, be specific and show where you’ll add value. For example, it’s a lot more compelling to say “I’m a CMO with 20 years of experience leading product marketing teams for global tech companies, and I can chair your board’s communication and outreach committee” than just saying “I’m a CMO, and I want to join your board.” 

Always be upfront about your skills, but early career or first time applicants should also be upfront about their desire to learn new skills and level up.

As a younger person you've likely not had the same amount of experience as others in your skillset, so when you approach a board be honest about sharing your skills in conjunction with your desire to learn and grow.

Step 2: Redo That Resume (CV)

Your board resume is NOT the same as your career CV. Think of it as an expansion of your pitch. Don’t list every title you’ve ever had — you’ll risk burying the information search committees really care about. One to two pages max will do the trick. Focus in on key words around transferable professional skills and areas of specialty. Most board resumes will include the following sections:

Board culture-.png
  • Profile statement: A brief summary paragraph that focuses on your leadership and strategy experience and emphasizes your industry expertise.
  • Board experience: Create a separate section for current or prior board positions, being sure to list name, location, and dates of service.
  • Relevant corporate experience: Be choosy! You’ve probably held a handful of titles, but give the most detail on positions or projects where you:
    • Interacted with a board: You worked closely with your company's or another company’s directors.  
    • Governed internally: You’ve been involved in negotiating or making collaborative high-stake agreements and decisions for your organization.
  • Community involvement and awards: Include community activities where you exercised leadership and list awards you received for your personal and professional accomplishments.
  • Education* (*if you went to a top school): One third of tech company directors hold degrees from one of seven top universities. Having an MBA is a huge asset for women aspiring to sit on a public board. If you have one, make it known.

Of course, before you submit any formal applications, make sure that all of your online profiles, including (but not limited to) your LinkedIn, Medium, personal website, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, are all up to date and tell the story you want to the board to understand.

  1. board_resume_template

    Resume Template

    Never put together a board resume before? No sweat! Check out this template for some inspiration on how to best showcase your board readiness.

    Get Started ››

INTERVIEW

Congrats! You've made it to the interview stage. That's no easy task. Use these resources and tips to prepare for your face-to-face meeting so that you can walk into the boardroom confidently.

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Step 1: Prepare For Your In-Person Interview 

The best thing you can do for your board interview is to come overprepared. Do your due diligence. Like with a typical job interview, you’ll want to know the basics about the people in the room: Who are you meeting with? What’s their background and experience? How does it differ from yours? (Hint: Make sure you know your value proposition inside and out, as you will likely be asked to articulate it right off the bat.)

Next, dive into the details. You’ll want to have an airtight understanding of the challenges or changes the company is currently facing because the board will likely ask you to give them feedback. READ EVERYTHING. Read their latest annual report. Read their quarterly filings, if they are public. Read their press releases. Read their social media feeds. Review their organizational structure so you know what committees exist. Research your expected contribution as a board member. Understand the financial viability of the organization and their board compensation structure. If you feel like you still need more information, ask for copies of their budget, financial plan, 501c3 determination letter (for nonprofits), and most recent meeting minutes. The more you know the less likely you are to be thrown off by unconventional questions.

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5 Things To Do Before Your Board Interview

Preparation is everything. Use these 5 tips as you prepare for your face to face meeting with the board.

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12 Unconventional Interview Questions

Ever wondered how interviewers probe whether candidates are a good fit for their organization? Here are some unique questions entrepreneurs ask their candidates to make this decision.

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The 3 Questions Every Board Interviewee Must Know

Are all interview questions really just variations of 3 core questions? Learn how to stop overcomplicating it and share what really matters.

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Your value is not measured by the volume of what you say, but by how you can bring in a unique outside perspective and ask questions that challenge the team.

Step 2: Ask The Right Questions  

We all know that it’s standard practice to ask your interviewer questions about the position and the expectations of the role. However, since your primary responsibility as a board member will be to ask the organization’s leadership detailed questions and use that information to make informed decisions, the quality of the questions you ask during your interview could make or break your candidacy.

Don’t be afraid to go beyond surface level and make sure you understand the dynamics of the board and the member’s individual responsibilities:

  • 1-476413023115090796.pngAsk about the culture of the board and how they work together. 
  • If you are going to be the first woman on the board, ask how the current members see you fitting in.
  • Ask how many hours per week or month board members actually spend on board work. How much of this time is in person meetings and how much work is required outside of meetings?
  • Ask what your role will be in development and fundraising. For nonprofits, this can range from roughly a $1000 to $50,000+ annual contribution or fundraising commitment. For corporate boards, having deep pockets, or knowing people with deep pockets, may also be a requirement.
  • Ask who evaluates the board’s performance, how they conduct reviews, and how often.
  • Ask questions about issues the board has faced in the past or could face in the future. This should include any prior litigation or complaints about the board.

Pro tip: Try to ask questions that will require multiple board members to answer, stimulate in-depth discussion, and allow you to demonstrate both your knowledge of the business and critical thinking skills.

EVALUATE

This is the last stop on the train: assessing your offer. You interviewed like a #ladyboss, you followed up in a gracious, creative manner, you got the offer, and now you’re faced with a final decision. To leap or not to leap? Let’s explore how to evaluate that question.

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Step 1: Assess Before You Accept  

It’s exciting to be wanted! But, just because you're an exceptional candidate and you like the organization does not always mean it's a great fit. Be extremely honest with yourself: is this company or nonprofit suitable to you and are you best suited for this position?

    1. Goals: Does the board fully understand its goals and are they achievable?
    2. Board Operation & Competence: Does the existing board and its leadership have the skills and resources to operate effectively?
    3. Management Operation & Competence: Do I trust the organization’s CEO and senior leadership team? Do I approve of their current operational track record? What is the relationship between the board and the CEO?>
    4. Financial Position: What is the reputation of the organization? Is it in good financial standing and does it have adequate risk protection and risk management procedures in place?
    1. Goals: Do I share the goals of the organization and the board? Do they align with my vision, and motivation for accepting this position? Will they support me?

    2. Experience & Skills: Can I add value to this organization? Does my skillset complement that of the existing board members in a way that will actually help move the needle forward?

    3. Commitments: Can I unequivocally commit the time and money this position deserves and requires? Smaller nonprofits will require more time; larger nonprofits and corporations will likely require more money.

    4. Conflicts of Interest: Can I make clear, impartial decisions in the best interest of the organization without unmanageable conflicts of interest? Have I clarified with my employer that I am eligible to sit on another company’s board?

    5. Liability Protection: Have I reviewed the insurance policies and indemnification provisions in the bylaws to ensure they are up-to-date and provide me coverage to the full extent of the law?

If you can strongly answer yes to all of the questions on this checklist, then you are probably ready to accept! However, don’t sign on the dotted line until you’ve gotten all of your questions answered, and feel free to negotiate the stipulations of your offer. Sometimes you can negotiate a smaller financial contribution in exchange for different services or partnership opportunities.

  • lorrie_norrington_hubspot
    Look at the CEO and his/her staff. Ask yourself what are they like to work with? Do they want to take the advice of a board, or are they just "checking the box" on governance. You'll find if you have a passion for the company and the CEO wants to work with the board to learn and grow the company together, your time will be well worth the effort.

    Lorrie Norrington, Operating Partner, Lead Edge Capital

    Board Member, ColgatePalmolive, Autodesk, Eventbrite, Bigcommerce & HubSpot

  • selina_tobaccowala_hubspot
    When I am considering any major decision I consider 3 factors: people, product, and room for learning. In choosing a board offer, the people side should be heavily weighted. The most important question is how much did you connect with and do you hold the same values as the CEO and the other board members?

    Selina Tobaccowala, Co-founder, Gixo

    Board Member, Redfin

Step 2: Don't Jump Just For the Sake of It   

Being a "board member" can sound glamorous, but, in reality, it’s a ton of work, much of which can be rudimentary, mentally unchallenging, and uninspiring. Regardless of how much you want to land your first board seat, remember that you will likely only hold a few board positions in your lifetime. Make sure that it’s a position where can make real impact, that you feel aligned and comfortable with the other team members, and that you make your decision with as much care as you would when evaluating a potential employer. If you choose wisely (and we know you will), board membership can be an extremely rewarding experience.

As longtime board member Emily Green, who currently sits on the board of Casella Waste Systems, says, "Your best bet for another board gig is to be able to point to things that you specifically contributed to this board, so roll up your sleeves, join or form a committee, and tackle something useful." And whatever you do, Emily adds, "Don't. Miss. The. Meetings. You spent a lot of time getting on the board; it’s not the end, it's the beginning." 

Advice From the Boardroom

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Why I Joined HubSpot's Board of Directors

A seasoned board member talks about finding a passion for the company before agreeing to sit on its board.

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Will You Please Join Our Board?

With companies in hot pursuit of qualified female board candidates, see how some women cut through the noise.

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Go Ahead, Take a Seat

We hope these resources will help you land the board seat you’ve always dreamed of. If you know a friend, female colleague, or group that could use this guide, please share it with them. Together, we can close the diversity gap and achieve equal representation for women at the highest levels. Boards get ready: Here you come.

take_a_board_seat

How HubSpot is Helping Women Grow Their Careers

  1. help_women_on_board

    Closing the gender gap takes a village.

    We can all do our part to make the ecosystem of business and tech a more inclusive place for women. Visit our website to see how HubSpot supports women growing their careers globally.

    Learn more ››
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InHerSight Company Spotlight: HubSpot

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How are you going to help get more #womenonboard?