January 1, 2003
Aside from being a career highpoint, landing a seat on a corporate board is an excellent opportunity to meet and network with high-level executives and industry leaders. Board members can also earn anywhere from $45,000 to $150,000 a year in cash and stock.
They are expected to help companies meet their financial goals and satisfy shareholders, so those looking for the opportunity should possess certain skills, such as having high-level corporate financial experience and expertise specific to a company’s needs. One way to get the necessary experience is to become a board member for a nonprofit organization. Nonprofits, some of which are required by law to have a board of directors, can run the gamut in terms of who they service, from international relief organizations, such as the Red Cross, to civil rights advocacy groups and professional organizations.
That’s where 59-year-old James Kaiser started. In 1982 Kaiser was elected to his first nonprofit board at Corning Hospital while working as a business manager for Corning Inc. in New York. Four years later he became a board member of the Washington, D.C.-based Executive Leadership Council, a nonprofit organization of African American executives. Since becoming an ELC board member, Kaiser says he has developed into an effective fund-raiser and gained tremendous contacts. He is presently chairman and CEO of his own company, Avenir Partners Inc., a Lexus automobile franchise in Memphis, Tennessee.
Kaiser, who retired from Corning in 1996 after a distinguished 30-year career, says sitting on a nonprofit board is a great way to learn how they are run.
As a result of his nonprofit board position, Kaiser was tapped for his first corporate board position at Dow Corning. He now sits on the boards of Sunoco Inc. and MeadWestvaco.
Judy Smith, a principal with the management consultant firm Booz Allen Hamilton in McLean, Virginia, uses her financial expertise to help The Women’s Center in Vienna, Virginia. As co-chair of the nonprofit’s finance committee, Smith provides advice on raising money, balancing spending, and generating revenue. “I chose The Women’s Center because I wanted a way to return to the community and help women,” says Smith, who eventually hopes to sit on a corporate board.
Kaiser found another benefit. While working at Corning and serving on the board of the Corning Hospital, Kaiser worked with high-level executives who were also board members, including his division manager.
“It gave me a different kind of access to my boss, and the vice president of HR was also on the board,” he says. “I could demonstrate a different level of skill.”
When choosing an organization, experts suggest contacting the executive director, a board member, or signing up as a volunteer to get a feel for the organization and to understand fiduciary responsibilities.
Roger Kenny, managing partner of Boardroom Consultants, a New York City-based agency that recruits directors to head up corporate boards, suggests that when you start looking for a nonprofit board, identify one with real decision making power and avoid a board that functions solely as a “figure head.”
Once you become a