Pros and Cons of Board Memberships

Joining not-for-profit boards to extend your network and other boards to generate an income stream independent of the business

Women are breaking through the glass ceiling; at least, some women are. There are numerous reports of wonder women who are leaving C-suit roles with blue chip companies and embarking on portfolio careers with a combination of well-paid listed boards and dynamic start-up companies. So, what do boards want and could you be the next successful board appointee?

The Role

Directors are responsible for governing the company. They help, guide oversee management in the best interests of the company. Different directors bring different skills so that the board is a diverse team able to add value to the wide range of issues that confront management. “If management is running the company, governance is ensuring that it is run properly”.

The primary skills are good business sense, ethics, attention to detail and the ability to make good decisions as part of a team.

Sound like you?

Getting started

Most directors’ first board role is ‘on the side’ while they pursue their executive career. A not-for-profit board in a sector that interests them, or an appropriate industry association, offer an opportunity to try out the role without giving up the income.

If you discover that you prefer a hands-on executive role, or cannot cope with the need to build and maintain consensus, then boards are not for you. If you thrive as a member of a team and love learning new aspects of business whilst having an impact in a leadership position you will probably love the boardroom!

There are several reputable courses that will give you the specifics of the board role and prepare you for the risks. Directors can be personally liable for the actions of the company so it is important to find out how to do the job to the required standard.

You can learn about directorship and how to start looking for board roles through the Australian Institute of Company Directors, The Director Institute, Board Direction, The Governance Institute of Australia and numerous others. Women on Boards is especially focused on, you guessed it, women!

The Hidden Payoff

Something that directors will often comment on is the surprising value of their board networks. People who volunteer as directors, even in a not-for-profit enterprise, are likely to be articulate, well connected and already successful in their other endeavors. They are a great network for emerging business leaders as they can offer advice, support, and introductions when you need them. Their endorsements carry real weight because they have worked with you on a board and can say exactly how you apply your skills and make your contribution.

The Money

Some not-for-profit enterprises do pay their directors. Usually, this is a small stipend but, for some of the larger organisations, it can reach six figures (without counting the cents).

Government sector boards will also pay directors and give you the opportunity to make a meaningful community contribution in areas such as health, infrastructure, education, advocacy, etc. Although director fees in the government sector do not reach the sums on offer at large listed corporations they are a welcome cashflow source for many a portfolio careerist. Government boards tend to be more preoccupied with compliance and ‘being seen to do the right things in the right ways’ than their commercial counterparts; you will learn skills here that will stand you in good stead in your own business or in other boardrooms.

Commercial boards offer the greatest potential returns. Even a small start-up company can prove a good investment of your time as many will pay in equity which, if they succeed, will be positively revalued. They also provide a great network of investors, advisors and potential partners for your own business.

Earn Your Seat At The Table

If you want a board seat you have to earn it. That means that you should know what skills, experiences or connections you have to offer and how they will be valuable to the target board. Think of yourself as the product and the company as the purchaser – why would they buy you? Work out you unique value contribution and then either write or, better, make a personal approach to the chair. When your value is clear the offer will come. The question is – would you, could you and should join that board?



About Your Guest Blogger: Julie Garland-McLellan is a professional company director and advisor to boards and directors. She is a fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and publisher of The Director’s Dilemma newsletter.