One of the questions I get asked the most is, “How can I make the transition from a board trustee to securing a paid board role?’. It is a significant step that most aspire to, whether for the prestige, the challenge or the income. Whilst there are many types of paid board roles, including those in Government, Charities whether they be Advisory Board, Committee roles or Non-Executive appointments, when most people ask me this question, they are usually referring to securing a paid commercial board role.
In the following sections, I will explain the possible pathways and provide advice to help you obtain a paid board position.
Pathways to a Paid Board Role
There are four pathways to a paid board appointment in the UK.
- Via a personal connection,
- The direct approach to board or organisation;
- By responding to an advertisement or;
- Through a search firm or recruiter.
Each of these pathways requires a different approach and tactics, two of which are reactive (responding to advertisements & through a search firm or recruiter), and the other two are proactive (via personal connection or the direct approach).
Reactive (and less successful) pathways
The two reactive pathways to a board role (responding to advertisements & through a search firm or recruiter) may sound more appealing because they will not initially require a considerable time commitment. But, they are highly competitive. However, when it comes to paid board roles, an overwhelming number of commercial organisations will now engage in the services of a search firm to assist with recruiting a new non-executive director. Many organisations must formally advertise the role even if they don’t outsource the recruitment task.
These pathways require you to be always prepared by keeping your Board CV current. Your LinkedIn profile must also be board-ready and current since LinkedIn is a board recruiter’s #1 tool. They advertise the board roles they are recruiting for, but even more so, they use it as a database to search for suitable candidates.
However, not all paid roles are advertised on LinkedIn. Some may be advertised on the various general job vacancy websites such as Indeed, Glassdoor and Reed UK. Others may only be advertised on the recruiter’s website. So, you will need to invest time to regularly monitor and search various websites or consider signing up for one of our membership packages, which we will do for you
You should also consider following and building relationships with recruiting firms and consultants. You need to know how to work with and impress them. Remember, if they are talking to you about a paid board role, they are also talking with many more candidates who are just as qualified.
Proactive (and more successful) pathways
The two proactive pathways to a paid board appointment (via personal connection or the direct approach) are far less competitive but require more time and planning. But the statistics show they are usually far more successful. It is often the case that you have very little or no competition at all for the role.
Essentially, these two pathways can result in your finding the hidden paid board roles. Even if a role is advertised or handled by a recruiter, the relationships you have already established will make you stand out from the competition when it counts.
With around 50% of organisations in the UK recruiting new board members each year and fewer than 10% of these roles being advertised, you can see why I recommend these two pathways as being the most successful ways of getting a paid board appointment. I have, in fact, developed an entire framework for these strategies and dedicated a substantial portion of my Board Appointment Traning Series to teaching how to implement the Direct Approach to gaining a board appointment.
In an ideal world, you would have time and tools to actively pursue all four pathways to ensure you secure a paid board role. However, most of you will also be balancing an executive career, a board trustee role and family commitments. You will need to manage time wisely, focusing on the pathways that are most likely to provide the best outcomes.
Tip for a trustee to secure a paid role
#1 Focus on your transferable skills
Securing a paid board role can be achieved by leveraging your trustee experience. You must identify and emphasise transferable skills. The board appointment process for a paid board role is highly competitive, and to succeed, you must stand out. Your board trustee role(s) can do just that.
Don’t downplay what you have achieved and learned in your trustee role because it was voluntary. Don’t underestimate the value and significance of the transferable skill that you have gained. Charity and not-for-profit boards experience many of the same or similar issues as commercial boards. That means you have gained plenty of skills in your trustee role that you can take across to a commercial board role.
Consider what skills and experience you did not have prior to taking on the trustee role and what skills and experience would be valuable to the commercial board you wish to sit on. These could include experience with board meetings, governance processes, and successful board dynamics. Overseeing the management of finances, risk and regulation requirements.
Once you have identified transferable skills and experience, be assertive in articulating their value to a commercial board. Ensure that you highlight them in your board profile.
#2 Choose the right trustee roles
Choose the right trustee roles that will allow you to develop the skills and experience for the types of board roles you aspire to. Don’t waste your precious time in trustee roles that provide you with no board and governance development opportunities. Your role as a trustee is not to run the day-to-day aspects of the organisation. Research the charity or nonprofit organisation and the board of trustees to ensure a strong history and results.
Where possible, look for trustee opportunities within the sectors or industries where you hope to pursue paid board roles. Also, focus on organisations that may face challenges similar to those of the commercial organisations on your board target list. Look for synergies where the roles overlap in duties, responsibilities and challenges. The size and scale of the charity or NFP are also factors.
In other words, serving in any trustee role, with the intention to gain board experience, will not help you land a paid board role. If a paid board role is your end goal, you must be strategic when selecting your trustee roles. Seek trustee roles that will bridge the gaps between your executive skill and experience and what is required for a paid board role.
#3 Give 100% to your trustee role
You are not there to make up numbers. To gain a paid role you must be able to evidence what you and the board of trustees have achieved. Please don’t treat it as a board career stepping stone. Make the most of the opportunity to learn new skills, gain confidence, challenge yourself and gain board experience.
You may also need to use your fellow trustee members or the chair as a referee for future paid board applications. You must show them the best version of you and what you are capable of. Earlier, I mentioned that one of the four pathways to a board role is via a personal connection. Your fellow trustees may turn out to be one of these connections. They must have confidence in your character and ability before they will consider risking their reputation and recommend you to anyone else.
#4 Keep in contact with everyone you served with
Trustee board members will come and go like you, changing or leaving trustee roles. It is essential that you maintain contact with everyone you work with. Keep them updated with what you are doing. Ask them for advice about your board career and use them as a sounding board. Many of them may have successfully transitioned from trustee to paid board role.
Another reason to keep in close contact is so they will reach out if they come across a paid board opportunity suitable for you.
#5 Revise your Board CV
Update your CV to highlight transferrable trustee skills, experience, and achievements that align with the requirements of paid board positions. Please note that your board CV should highlight leadership and strategic aspects of your career and experience, as opposed to day-to-day responsibilities. Showcase successful outcomes, such as how your contributions as a trustee board member led to positive outcomes for the organisation.
Then, ensure that your online presence, particularly your LinkedIn profile, accurately reflects your Board CV.
Finally, tailor your board CV for every application. Focus on the selection criteria outline but also conduct extensive research to determine additional ways you can add value to the board and its goals.
#6 Be patient and prepared to pivot
Everyone’s pathway from board trustee to a paid board role will be different. Your path may also change along the way as you make new connections or other opportunities arise. It will take time; it requires patience and perseverance. Often, people succeed because others have no perseverance and give up. However, you also need to be able to acknowledge when something is not working and consider a different pathway or approach. Your path may require numbers detours, so continually assess, reflect and pivot when necessary.
#7 Develop personal connections
This is the most important thing. Personal connections facilitate 65% of all board appointments and vastly more of the paid appointments. So, you must develop relationships with the NEDs of those organisations you wish to get appointed to. Exactly how you do that is explained in detail in the Board Search Training Series I have designed.
In conclusion, transitioning from a trustee role to securing a paid board position requires careful planning, networking, and strategic positioning. Following the steps outlined above can increase your chances of successfully making this transition. Remember, building a strong reputation as a trustee, gaining relevant experience, and expanding your network within the industry is essential.
When searching for paid board positions, proactively contact organisations that align with your interests and values. Leverage your existing network and connect with key decision-makers who may have insights into available board opportunities. Attend industry conferences, seminars, and networking events to expand your reach and visibility.
Finally, be patient and persistent in your pursuit of a paid board role. These positions are often highly competitive, and it may take time to find the right fit. Stay focused on your goals, continue to develop your skills and knowledge, and seize any opportunities that come your way.
About the Author
David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments – The UK’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world.