How to choose your first board (Part 2) 

By Ruth Medd
Chair, Women on Boards


Women on Boards is often asked how you might  choose your first board.  My previous article ‘How to choose your first board’ suggested that your first board should be one that is well governed and does not suffer from:

  • being insufficiently  strategic
  • lack of professionalism
  • insufficient governance 

These characteristics were symptomatic of the experiences of WOB members, on mainly not for profit boards in our recent National Board Recruitment and Appointments Research Report.

If you are an inexperienced director your priority should be to learn your directorship skills from those who are more experienced to establish a base of governance expertise while contributing your skills in the boardroom.  So chose an organisation that is well governed. 

Easier said than done!

Tell-tale signs of organisations with 'developing', rather than 'developed' governance

The advertisement
  • A good board vacancy posting will talk about the vision and mission of the organisation; the size of the organisation (such as staff numbers, volunteers, annual revenues, funding sources); plans for the future; and the constitutional status e.g. a not for profit, an association.
  • A poor posting will talk about the vision and mission and not much else.

The position description  

  • Is it basic and stating the obvious?  My favourite is a long list of dot points about directors' duties, including items such as ‘attend board meetings’  and ‘read board papers’.
  • Or does it give you a sense of improving governance behaviour, such as the board is skills based; we have recently undertaken a skills audit?

The selection criteria

  • Often organisations have a set of criteria that they use (this is true of government boards), but a really good posting will be up front about what they need for this vacancy.  For example, a director who is CPA or CA is qualified for the treasurer role, or a digital marketing specialist.  A common mistake (and evidence of a lack of understanding) is when organisations seeking a treasurer stipulate that a degree is required  – not realising that a CPA or CA is a post grad qualification.
  • General selection criteria are an invitation to make contact and ask for more specific information.  By doing this you may indeed help them to clarify what they seek; and possibly decide not to apply!

How to apply

  • Some organisations demand a CV and cover letter. 
  • Smarter ones will say get in touch to get more information or contact us for the position description; which is an invitation to interact.     

It’s important to speak to the contact person to get yourself on the map as a potential candidate and to understand what skills they are actually seeking.  For a not for profit the contact may be the Chair; a good omen.

My final observation is that if you want to be a board member who exercises governance, rather than a one who 'works' then chose an organisation that has staff, money in the bank and a business model.

I hope the above is of assistance.  If in doubt give WOB a call.

Key Messages

References

  1. National Board Recruitment Survey media release.  
  2. Boardroom Diversity Index.