Nurses embarking on a path to board service will be served well with some focused goal- and intention-setting in order to land their first position as a trustee, director or committee seat. The process may take time, so it’s a good idea to plan your journey. But how to choose the board you’re targeting? You may want to consider several factors — and the following sequence — as you begin.

Step 1

Start by making a list of qualities you bring to a potential leadership position — and don’t sell yourself short. Most RNs possess strong organization, time management, communication, human relations, and general management skills. They typically are attuned to quality and safety needs, understand the importance of continuum and consistency of care, and bring a holistic, humanistic perspective that is rare for most professions. They react calmly in crisis and are creative thinkers by nature. Many nurse managers oversee budgets, and can bring an understanding of financial issues to a board.

What are your unique qualities? What are you good at? What are you passionate about? Beyond your profession, what other expertise do you bring? Parenting skills, volunteer work, life experience, previous careers — all can potentially enhance your chances for joining a board. Think strategically, highlighting the qualities you have in order to attract the position you want.

Step 2

With those unique qualities in mind, make a list of companies or causes that are meaningful to you, and be ready to talk about your passion by the time you get your first interview. Do you feel strongly about a certain health issue? A particular population? A specific disease? Are you passionate about new medical technologies? Health care in general? Remember that as a nurse who’s new to board service, you don’t necessarily need to align yourself with health care per se — your local school board, homeowner’s association, church board, or animal rescue nonprofit are all legitimate jumping-off places to gain board experience. Whether it’s your first or your fifteenth board, however, its parent organization must mean a lot to you; your passion about the cause or the company should set you apart from other board candidates.

Step 3

With your qualities clear and organizations in focus, it’s almost time to network like crazy. Prepare by tightening up your LinkedIn profile, focusing your résumé, making a list of every possible contact who might be of assistance…then…GO! Reach out to everyone on your list. Attend networking events. Take others to coffee or lunch. Get the word out. Be thorough, be exhaustive, and be specific about what you’re asking for — an introduction they can help you make to the position, cause, or company that’s best for you.

Again, think strategically: How can you connect with the people who can connect you with the organization(s) at the top of your list?

Simultaneously, consider learning more about board service. The more you know about governance, the better your chances of finding — and performing well on — your first board. A workshop to help you better understand the differences between boards? A class on the specific issues boards face? A seminar on how to interview for a board position? If it applies, a workshop on how to navigate the challenges women face on boards? Any preparations you make will improve your chances with the committee that’s considering hiring you for their board.

Step 4

Get help if you need it. The right recruiter can help you find a board position — don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. Similarly, if you have friends or colleagues who already serve on boards, ask them how they did it and whom you might speak with for support. Be proactive and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re already serving on a board, ask other board members — they’re likely to be affiliated with other organizations.

Step 5

After your research, after your networking, after your interviews, when the first offer comes from the first board, take a deep breath and choose wisely. Joining a board is an important, long-term commitment. It comes with personal and professional liability and calls for many hours of service. In the case of most nonprofits, it requires some type of financial or fundraising commitment. Don’t just accept the first offer you get. Evaluate the board as much or more than they’re evaluating you; learn everything you can about them — “due diligence” is the operative phrase here. Weigh others’ opinions even as you trust your own intuition. As always, think strategicallyIs this the right first/next step for me on my leadership path? If the answer is “No,” keep looking; if the answer is “Yes,” dive in and enjoy the process!

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