Amid the many changes in my life of late, I've recently joined the advisory board of a company.
It's a small company in the education/journalism field, one that I came across during my job hunt. And although they didn't have a job for me, I really got on with the Director and stayed in touch with him after we met. Then one day, when I told him about my new job, he invited me to be on the advisory board of his outfit.
I went to my first board meeting a few weeks ago and it immediately struck me what a great move -- professionally and personally -- it is to join the board of an organization you believe in. Here's why:
1. You give back.
Most of us want to give something back to the community in which we live. (OK, having just seen Inside Job, I suppose some of us don't.) So let me qualify that statement: Many of us want to give something back. But as you get older and busier, spending all day Saturday at the local soup kitchen is no longer a viable option. Joining a board is one way to give back. The whole purpose of setting up an advisory/governance board of a company or non-profit is to pool together a diverse group of people who can give you input and connections from their respective industries. In my case, I will be helping out this particular company with its social media strategy. But as we went around the table, people sitting there were offering help in all manner of areas: from networking with teachers to helping set out a "moral purpose" for the company's mission. And it struck me what a wonderful opportunity it was -- for all of us -- to feel that we were contributing to something larger than our pocketbooks.
2. You learn something.
As we age, it's vital that we continue to learn. Joining the board of an organization immerses you not only in what that company is doing, but in the broader sector in which it sits. And so you begin to learn about a new field. It's likely one that you already knew something about (or you wouldn't be there in the first place). But it's also likely that you are now thinking about that field from a new perspective, as you help the company navigate its own place in that space.In my case, I know a fair bit about journalism and I know something about the British education system, having done some teaching last year. But I don't know anything about how those two things join up in the National Curriculum and I'm finding it absolutely fascinating to learn.
3. You network.
It goes without saying that joining a board represents a great opportunity to network, both with people inside your field and with those way outside it. There is a bottom line aspect to such networking: You might actually land yourself a job. But there's also a purely social aspect: it's fun to meet new people! I'm now fast-friends on Twitter with a gentleman I met through this Board who, late in life, has decided to master social media and re-purpose himself as an educational consultant. He's a great guy with lots of energy and ideas and it's been a real pleasure to get to know him Online and in real life.
4. It looks good.
If having fun, meeting people and expanding your professional connections aren't reason enough to join a board, then do it for this very simple reason: It looks good. Being on a board lends a certain gravitas to your CV. It is also a potential signaling device when/as/if you end up on the job market because you never know who else might know other people who work at this company (or serve on the board!) and will use this in evaluating you. So if you're on a professional social networking site like Linked In (and if you aren't, why aren't you?) by all means, be sure to flag your board membership.
5. It will feed into your day job.
In addition to learning more about a substantive area of interest (#2), being on a board will also give you ideas about your own job and professional sector. And that's because when you sit down and analyze closely how another organization staffs itself, allocates its resources, makes decisions etc., it will invariably get you thinking about your own workplace and the pros/cons of its own internal structure/process. You might get new ideas for how to fundraise, what to call a position you are currently recruiting for or how to streamline decision-making. Whatever it is, you will be learning. And I guarantee that you'll take that with you to your own job.
So if there's an organization that intrigues you, approach them and see if they'd be willing to have you on their board. They'll get something out of it... and so will you.