Corporate boards are always looking for new and different voices, and CPAs offer a lot. This column discusses the benefits of board membership and provides a guide for those CPAs who want to pursue board opportunities.
The benefits of service on a board are mutual for both the CPA and the board. For the CPA, board service can ...
- Broaden strategic thinking, leadership, and interpersonal skills.
- Provide more information about nonfinance facets of an organization.
- Build or refine public speaking and collaboration experience.
- Enhance networking with nonfinancial leaders.
For the board, adding CPAs can diversify and strengthen competencies, including ...
- Business acumen, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
- Deep understanding of processes and controls.
- Ability to translate financial data into actionable information.
For the CPA, successfully securing a board seat requires preparation, credential building, and outreach.
Before you start, decide which type of board you want to join. You can consider for-profit company boards – which include public or private entities – or nonprofit boards. Regardless, the steps to secure a seat are similar. Nonprofit boards are generally easiest to join; public company boards are the most challenging.
Boards operate under various regulations and standards. In addition, board members assume fiduciary responsibilities and associated risks that you must understand. Take the time to learn the basics about board service before you join so you can be a productive contributor.
There are countless resources to help you learn how boards operate. Some companies encourage developing leaders to explore nonprofit board service. These companies may even engage organizations to train employees on board basics and help place them on local nonprofit boards.
Boards of directors consist of individuals with varied backgrounds and expertise. To be successful, you need strong collaborative, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills. If you are weak in any of these areas, seek to improve them via team projects at work, academic courses, or engaging a mentor or executive coach.
For organizations you are interested in joining, read available financial statements or filings. Review any available annual reports, and look for any online information. Build a target list of organizations that may benefit from your unique skill set or nonprofit causes that resonate with you.
Determine the most pressing needs of your target. Look for recurring issues by checking news stories and press releases. Network with people at, or close to, the company to get the inside story.
For nonprofit organizations, building your experience credentials may be as easy as volunteering. It is a great way to demonstrate your value and commitment to the mission. Some nonprofit and for-profit companies have advisory groups or teams that act as an incubator for board candidates. Look for groups focused on strategy or topics that align with your capabilities.
If you feel that you lack certain skills or experiences, ask your manager to be assigned to major initiatives or projects. These build leadership and collaboration skills, expand your network, and demonstrate your unique value.
If you have strong perspectives or qualifications, then consider ways to establish thought leadership in those areas. Write articles in professional journals or blogs, speak at events, or teach. These are good ways to demonstrate valuable skills.
Determine the unique value that you will bring to a board, and write a few concise sentences that describe what you bring to the table. Match your personal value statement to your target companies’ needs.
Communicate your desire to join a board to your business and personal contacts. If anyone in your network currently sits on a board, reach out to them and discuss their experiences. Display your genuine interest and be prepared to discuss types of boards you are targeting.
Ask for introductions to people who know about boards and their needs. Private equity, venture capital, or large individual investors are plugged into the leadership needs of many for-profit companies. Networking with these people can open doors and provide valuable insight.
Look for current or recent board members and leaders of organizations on your target list. Find opportunities to interact with them and to demonstrate your interest, unique skills, and thought leadership.
There is no single path for attaining board membership. Build your skills and brand, identify your targets, and be patient. Keep in mind that current board members often nominate candidates, so networking will always be your best tool.
Michael F. Cade, CPA, CGMA, is strategy consultant and executive coach for MFCCoach LLC in Morrisville and a member of both PICPA Council and the
Pennsylvania CPA Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mfccoach.