Board service takes commitment and comes with legal duties, but gives you a chance to offer your expertise and guide an organisation. But let’s be real: what can you get from it? Why on earth would anyone want to give up their leisure time for more work (especially work that has definite legal ramifications if things go sour)? Every board director started with a specific focus as to why they started, and many who I’ve met have changed their reasons with time – nothing stays the same.
Reasons Why People Embrace the Opportunity
Being Recognised as the Expert
For many who are asked to serve on a board, doing so is like a badge of honour. A board member is usually sought after because of their track record as a successful outsider, with years of relevant and useful experience to bring to the table. As a board director, you are being recognised as an expert in your field and asked to share your wealth of knowledge to better the organisation.
Many find that working as a board director reinvigorates their interests in what brought them into their career and breathes new life into stale careers. This happens when you get the opportunity to interact and work with other people who are motivated and may work outside of your immediate sphere of influence – like at your day job. You might be supporting a start-up to grow and avoid costly mistakes or supporting a non-profit in giving back to your community – either way, you get to be highly engaged and personally motivated through lending your experience and insights. And who isn’t inspired by that type of work?
Increasing Intellectual Challenges
The duties of board directors are incredibly different from those of the operating roles that you would be used to until now in your career journey. Directors look at organisations holistically and eventually develop a more in-depth understanding of a breadth of topics that senior leaders have to contend with. These topics include mergers and acquisitions, executive pay, shareholder concerns, market growth campaigns, and technological adaptations. You develop and contribute in a way that expands your understanding of how organisations work and the process behind true strategic decision-making.
Powerful Networking and Growing Your Personal Brand
Being a board director conveys to other executives and thought leaders in your industry that you are an expert in your field. It highlights the fact that you have ideas, or at least that you can take a leadership role past the operational and are well-equipped to help shape the future of any organisation.
Being on a board highlights your qualities to other board professionals as well. It provides exposure beyond your current company or smaller network and allows you to be recognised by a wider audience of peers. Some of you may well be looking to make board service a long-lasting career and developing a portfolio of boards to serve on. A portfolio career is what we refer to when someone’s job becomes sitting on a number of boards at one time.
Some board positions pay you for your expertise. Yes, while most just pay a token amount, many corporate boards compensate handsomely for the expertise and advice that board directors provide. According to Lodestone Global, in 2020 the average director of a public company made $42,750 in 2020. And according to Veritas, the top range can be from $300,000 to $500,000 annually. If pay is increased on a salary side, this generally means a higher firm status as the compensation is linked to the increased risk and responsibilities.
Meanwhile, according to a Reuters report, S&P 500 companies tend to pay the most, with the average being $304,856. They have the financial backing to be able to recognise the substantial time and responsibility necessary to oversee the affairs of the company. Not all firms can provide this level of compensation, yet governance structures do make it public what compensation boards will offer their directors.
That being said, there is a huge discrepancy among the rest. Start-up boards typically do not pay a salary, and board members and advisors may be compensated in equity. For non-profit firms and school trustees, directorships are often entirely voluntary and the pay is the intrinsic rewards felt at performing the role and helping the organisation.
Taking Board Service to the Next level
For those who find serving on boards truly rewarding, a portfolio career – also known as a board career – can also become an option to pursue. Typically, it is when an individual pursues more than one board role simultaneously – not just as a source of income, but most importantly, because they enjoy the work as well as the flexibility and variety it offers.
Usually, a board portfolio can have a mixture of any activity that allows you to utilise different skills and involves engaging in various types of work, from directorship roles and board consulting roles to advisory board roles and governance board work. Being a board director takes work so, depending on the organisation you join, board service can be time-consuming. The role can be demanding and it requires staying abreast of the industry.
There can also be internal politics to manoeuvre and, at times, it can feel risky to navigate the legal considerations. Therefore, it is important to be clear on why you would want to start a portfolio career, what you want out of such a move, and how it will serve your interests. You can use a portfolio career to develop new skills, expand your industry influence, and expand your centre of influence – as long as you are very clear about what roles you take on.
In the end, board service is not for everyone, but if you think it’s a potential fit for you, begin by asking yourself a few key questions:
- Does the work of that board spark a light within you?
- Do you understand the role, responsibilities, and legal duties?
- What can you bring to a board that is beneficial to the organisation?
- What do you need to do to be proactive and prepared for such a role?
- Does working on this board support your plans for the future of your career?
- What time commitment is required to be effective in the role (both meetings and prep)?
- Who else would be serving on the board with you? Who are you working with and learning from?
- How effective is the board? And have there been issues within the board previously?
For me, serving on a board is a way for me to stay true to my purpose as well as continue to look out and look beyond. I serve in a mixture of paid and unpaid roles and, in the end, it is a service with rewards that go both ways. I give my expertise, time, and energy. In turn, I receive rewards that are fulfilling to me and align with my values. Be true to yourself and your values, and you will succeed. Being aware of the risks makes performing my duties easier as the ramifications are clearly known. If you have a need to serve, get out there. And if you know someone who you think should be serving? Put the bug into their ear, and help educate them to make the decision that much easier.