A Seat at the Table: demystifying what it means to be on a board

Women make up more than half of the US population and a larger share of the volunteer force, but we are still underrepresented on corporate and non-profit boards.

(ahem - this is despite the evidence of the correlation between increased business performance and women's board representation.)

Change is happening - slowly. This year, Golden West Financial, a savings institution in California and Fortune 500 company, achieved gender parity on its board - with a woman as chief executive, and five women and five men on its board. 

Board membership might be something you've considered, whether at a local, regional or national level, but the process can be intimidating due to these barriers:

1. Getting a foot in the door
Corporate boards can often be (or appear to be) inaccessible to those who aren't C-level performers. 

2. Having your time valued
Some boards have the reputation of being resume fillers or boondoggles for some (while a few do the work.) How do you know unless you're in it?

3. Creating the time
When our plates are already full, how do we create space to contribute to this change?

Nonprofit boards can be a smart place to start. If you can connect your passion with an organization that can benefit from your skills you're already a step ahead. 

We spoke with Passion Collective friend, entrepreneur and 360 Communities board member Stacy Richards on what it means to serve on a board.

Start by thinking about the issues that matter most to you.
Then, do the research and make inquiries from there. Many nonprofit boards welcome interest from leaders in the community – so, make sure you’re reaching out to organizations that are of personal interest to you.

Make a personal connection.
When you find a nonprofit you like, LinkedIn is a great way to connect. Search within your network to see if you know anyone who’s already volunteering with them. If you come up dry, check the board profiles on the organization’s website to see if you can find a personal connection with someone – maybe they went to your college or live in your town – and reach out to them directly.


… You might feel like you have so much on your plate, and no time to give more of yourself. Ask yourself instead: what will I miss by not doing this?

Stacy Richards, board member, 360 Communities

Find a need that fits your skills.
When you think you’ve found an organization that’s a match, focus on what you have to offer. Are you good with numbers? Skilled in sales? Don’t be shy about leveraging your unique talents.

Set boundaries.
Before you make any commitments with your time – or your finances – make sure you know what’s being expected of you. If you don’t get a straight answer, call a current board member and ask about their experience. 

Once you're a board member, balance your contribution with what you receive. 
To make the most of your time and experience, revisit both your goals and your value to the organization regularly. Maybe you’re becoming a better leader while you help build a better community, or growing your network while you grow their donor base.

Remember it’s not forever.
Be honest and diligent with the organization and yourself about how much you can offer. But remember, term limits are usually two or three years – you’re not committing for a lifetime.

Still not sure if you’re ready to take this step? Take it from Stacy:
“You would be really surprised at how much you get back versus what you give. I have made business connections, made friends, learned about myself and my leadership skills, and different ways to be effective in that group environment and dynamic. … You might feel like you have so much on your plate, and no time to give more of yourself. Think about, what am I missing by not doing this?”

About 360 Communities
Founded more than 45 years ago by a group of volunteers, 360 Communities provides hope and support to about 17,000 individuals each year with 9 programs in over 40 locations, including a network of five food shelves, two domestic violence shelters, two resource centers and three programs that support school success from birth through high school graduation. 
Learn more about 360 Communities here.