FountainBlue’s When She Speaks Event: Corporate Women on NonProfit Boards

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FountainBlue’s November 13 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of Corporate Women on Nonprofit Boards and featured:

• Facilitator Wendy Beecham, CEO, FWE&E
• Panelist Pamela E. Evans, Director, Executive Programs, NetApp
• Panelist Cecily Joseph, Director, Corporate Responsibility, Legal and Public Affairs, Symantec
• Panelist Marilyn Nagel, Chief Diversity Officer, Cisco
• Panelist Keren Pavese, Program Manager, Western Division Office of Sustainability, Community Outreach & Diversity Councils, EMC Corporation

Below are notes from our conversation.
Our panel emphasized that serving on nonprofit boards actually benefits them personally and professionally, provided that the board and 1) the cause is something they feel passionate about, 2) the people are people you enjoy serving with, 3) the projects are engaging, fulfilling, and require your support, and 4) the workload and expectations are manageable. Indeed, each panelist emphasized how serving on nonprofit boards helped them with enhance their professional knowledge and understand and even impact industry trends, with their community outreach goals, working in alignment with corporate objectives, and with their personal development, providing enriching experiences which stretches expertise and perspective.

If you’re considering joining a board, he key to a successful nonprofit board experience is to be strategic about which board is right for you. Start by understanding what you’re passionate about and where you might contribute. Think also about what you get back by serving, whether it’s connections or expertise or knowledge for example. Then, before making a board commitment, you may want to consider doing some volunteer work and getting to know the people involved. Remember that you are not just evaluating the leader or any individual, but the whole organization as a system, so things like how the staff and executive director and board members get along is a very important thing to consider.

Be also knowledgeable about responsibilities and expectations and terms, particularly when it comes to legal (do they have insurance for board members for example) and fiduciary and fundraising/development requirements (are their finances secure and transparent, are you required to contribute and fundraise and if so, how much) and terms of service (how long, how often). Treat the nonprofit board position evaluation like a job interview, and have both parties evaluate the fit before making a commitment.

If you are considering transferring from the corporate world to the nonprofit world, follow some of the strategies above, including identifying your skills and passion and getting to know the organization and its alignment with your objectives and your alignment to theirs. Although salaries are smaller, titles can be bigger, and the work may be more fulfilling in many ways.

Sometimes, board participation is in alignment with day-to-day work duties, and is part of your responsibilities in your role. Even when it’s not, board participation might be positive included in performance review meetings, particularly when direct results such as skills enhancement, partnership development, and other tangible results are outcomes from that participation.

If you DO decide to join a board, make sure that you do the ‘give/get’, know what you’re giving and what you’re getting, and know also when to ‘get out’, change your commitment if necessary to ensure that all parties continue to meet objectives. If you are unsatisfied with your participation on a board, consider also asking to change or enhance your role and contribution, or toning down time and task requirements before deciding to get out entirely. If you DO decide to leave, work with your nonprofit to recruit a replacement.

The panel concluded by reiterating how personally and professionally fulfilling it is to serve on nonprofit boards, and encourage others to evaluate for themselves whether this is also a good option for them.

Resources:
• Nonprofit Board Basics, from a workshop provided by Cisco, generously shared by Cisco: http://www.cisco.com/web/about/ac49/ac55/Nonprofit_Board_Basics_2009_11_10b.pdf
• If you’re seeking a board position, visit Boardnet USA http://www.boardnetusa.org/public/home.asp and search for a nonprofit match for someone with your skill set, education and interest.
• The Young, Nonprofit Professionals Network has a list of nonprofit resources which may be useful for those looking at going into the nonprofit sector. http://208.106.176.241/resources/ResourceLinks.asp
• CompassPoint in Milpitas which provides a range of services for nonprofit organizations http://www.compasspoint.org
• Foundation Center in San Francisco, which has a directory of foundations online http://www.foundationcenter.org
• Pamela Evans of NetApp has graciously offered to share information about board roles and board responsibilities. Please send an e-mail to info@whenshespeaks.com regarding why you need this information and I would be happy to share it with you.

For more information about our series, visit http://www.whenshespeaks.com.

Our notes are copyrighted by FountainBlue for 2006-2010. We welcome you to forward our notes to interested groups, provided that you copy us on your distribution, and that you provide acknowledgment to FountainBlue and our sponsors and speakers.

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