As Told To is a recurring segment on xoNecole where real women are given a platform to tell their stories in first-person narrative as told to a writer.
This is Melissa's story, as told to Charmin Michelle.
As we navigate today's racial pandemic and the symbolic gestures shared by public and private businesses and organizations, it is extremely important to move from symbolism to reality. Representation whether it's external through the vendors and services utilized, or internal through hiring, seniority and board service is a pivotal first step in inclusiveness and equity.
Over the last five years, I have served as a board member and Chair of the Board of Directors for a NYC-based organization enhancing the opportunities for children, families and social workers in the foster system, Fostering Change for Children. In 2020, I added to my passion for service by being invited and then appointed to the board of the National Job Corps Association.
In both cases, I am the only Black woman currently serving.
I knew this would be a factor, as oftentimes it is in corporate, but over time it occurred to me, that we just aren't aware of how to join a board—or it's simply something that we don't have those conversations about enough. I recently came across an article on xoNecole titled, "10 Black Women Pulling Up To The C-Suite On The Boards Of Fortune 500 Companies", and I knew I needed to share what I knew in the sector about this topic. So many of us could bring our voices to the table, for palpable change and contributions to building a more equitable society. Each one, teach one, right?
So, ladies, here's everything I know, detailed and outlined, to take that new leap in your career. I hope to see you all in the boardroom!
How To Get Started
Before we dive into this, let's answer this question: why do you want to be a board member?
Well, becoming a board member is an opportunity to exercise your passions, skills and knowledge outside of your everyday 9-5; sort of on an internal, progressive level. And the process may seem daunting if you don't know where to start.
Because I personally find deep and personal fulfillment in knowing that my decision-making and experiences are directly impacting the communities that reflect both me and my family, I decided to actually become active in researching the best ways to break into this sector.
I joined the United Way's BoardServe program, which provided me with a three-hour orientation on the inner workings of nonprofit boards, whether learning or presenting their fiduciary/monetary legal guidelines, or something as seemingly simple as taking minutes during a convening. I then completed a profile which identified my strengths (communications, branding, social impact) and interests (children, family, the arts). Following my profile creation, my data was shared with a number of organizations searching to onboard new members and then the "dating" process began.
It's important to remember that your time is valuable and your true commitment will be amplified by how connected you are to the particular cause. I engaged in approximately four meet-and-greet sessions over coffee with nonprofit CEOs who pitched me on their organization, their board member requirements and why they believed that I would be a great fit. There were some fantastic meetings, but some orgs either didn't speak to the heart of my interests, had time commitments that didn't fit my availability, or needed to do a bit more work internally before I felt comfortable lending my expertise and/or criticism to their environment.
And that's OK. We have to find what is a good fit for us.
You can search for board member training programs in your local community or identify your areas of interest. For example, when I search for organizations based in Memphis for the arts, it leads me to: https://www.artsmemphis.org/organizations. From there, I would research the Head of Advancement/Philanthropy or CEO, depending on the size and staff structure of the organization to express my interest.
Typical board commitments at a minimum is to give (donation) or get (solicitation through fundraising in your personal and professional networks) a financial gift. Not all organizations require board member financial obligations, but this is one of the first questions that you should ask before acting upon interest. Be certain that you can fulfill the financial commitment which can range from the low hundreds into tens of thousands of dollars depending on the board.
Your next inquiry should be on the time commitment expected. Typically boards meet on a quarterly basis for 2-4 hours with breakout committees meeting in between. Based on my personal interests, I volunteer my time on the committees for events and communications which often consist of an additional two hours of phone calls each month and the work in executing our various events or deliverables.
The length of board service is dependent on the specific organization with some boards voting yearly on their members and others going as long as five years or indefinitely for seats. On average, you should expect to recommit every two years or to have your board use that as a marker of time served to allow someone new to come onboard.
Board Service Benefits & Development
Becoming a board member has expanded my professional network. While also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and dedicating myself to a lifetime of service, I can now add my two board seats to my resume. Hiring managers will now view your commitment to service as a mark of responsibility, additional training, and professionalism.
Access is key to Black women shattering the glass ceiling.
By opening your circle's influence through board service and volunteerism, you can connect with additional and like-minded peers who can speak to your ability to get things done. That's what we are best at. It's up to us to validate our purpose. Nonprofit board service is a wonderful entry point into corporate board service, which in addition to opening your network, can also pay off in major dividends as board members are compensated for their time. Becoming a board member will align with your passion, connect with your community, and give you the very important opportunity to represent so many of us who've had muffled voices for generations; the voices of those who look like us.
Melissa C. Potter Monsanto is dedicated to standing at the forefront of impact, innovation, and social responsibility by using entertainment, media, partnerships and advocacy as a catalyst for social change. Follow her on Instagram at @melissacpotter to keep up with her journey or to ask more questions about starting your board journey.
Featured image courtesy of Melissa Monsanto