The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) projects 1.7M students at the bachelor’s degree level will graduate in 2012. CBS MoneyWatch reports the hiring of college graduates is expected to increase in 2012. That’s good news for the still few graduates fortunate enough to land one of the coveted positions.
For young professionals scouring job search sites for career opportunities, a significant challenge is meeting the job qualification “experience required”. Most colleges now include internships as part of the curriculum; however, an internship isn’t the job-landing role to propel your application up the pipeline. So what can a young professional do to gain real-world experience and exposure to business operations while in turn offering their newly acquired skills and talents? Consider nonprofit board membership.
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States. These figures do not include nonprofit organizations earning less than $25,000 per year, so the number is actually larger. Most nonprofit board of directors memberships are comprised of a community’s industry leaders and senior executives. A young professional who is elected to the membership will be exposed to a team with over a hundred years of combined business leadership experience and knowledge. Nonprofits follow stringent regulations to maintain their status and are often departmentalized just like companies within the public sector to include departments in accounting, customer relations, communications, quality control, and human resources.
Membership on a nonprofit board generally begins with a detailed orientation to provide the new member with a company overview and introduce them to the executive team and other board members. Long-term membership provides new professionals with a broad overview of business and operations management, strategies effective for facing financial and operational challenges, and a direct connection to some of the community’s most well-respected, influential and philanthropic citizens.
Board membership is a reciprocal relationship. Members are required to follow a list of irrevocable expectations, which commonly include helping the agency fundraise and create awareness about the mission. Heavy committee work may be a requirement and monthly meetings are often mandatory. Members must be prepared to make hard decisions and ask tough questions. The benefits of membership, however, far outweigh the stringency.
“The business experience gained from nonprofit board participation is invaluable,” says Kelly Parsons-Kwiatek, a partner with Cobb & Cole law firm and board member for Easter Seals. “To gain the most growth as a young professional, seek out a cause that is your passion. The progress that I see the children make at Easter Seals, with early intervention and therapy that allows them to lead productive lives, gives me so much joy. It sounds cliche, but I am enriched by much more than I give. I recommend you find a cause for which you have a passion and contribute to that cause.”
Young professionals interested in board membership should familiarize themselves with agencies of interest by participating in fundraising events, sitting in at public board meetings, researching the agency as if applying for a position, and then asking for a meeting with the executive director or director of community relations. Young professionals with active memberships on nonprofit boards can expect to gain business acumen not taught in the classroom, a boost in confidence, and the personal reward of affecting change in the communities where they live.