Don’t Close The Door on Pro-Bono Opportunities

Considering launching your portfolio career? Here's why it's worth your while to consider pro-bono opportunities as well as paid



Many professionals embarking on a portfolio non-executive career dismiss out-of-hand the idea of working in voluntary roles. You could, however, be passing up a golden opportunity to gain experience, expand your network and broaden your skillset by pursuing only paid roles.

In late 2017, Third Sector, the definitive publication for the UK’s voluntary and not-for-profit sector, reported significant job growth among smaller and medium-sized charities, up more than 12 per cent on the previous year. Similarly, the number of new charities established in 2017 was the highest ever recorded.

Within such a buoyant and dynamic sector there is an immediate and ongoing need for trustees and board members to guide organisations towards stability and longevity. Your direct involvement in shaping the governance, strategy and development of a charity could pay massive dividends when you go on to apply for paid non-exec roles. Similarly, the expertise you will gain in such a highly-regulated sector could see you being promoted to a paid board role within the very same organisation or even at another charity.

Volunteer boards by definition are very fluid and diverse, comprising people from all backgrounds and sectors, which presents an opportunity to build a varied and diverse network of contacts. Similarly, pro-bono roles will often be held in organisations that liaise with and rely on close board collaboration with similar organisations, governing bodies and even media and PR agencies. This creates great opportunities to meet with people from outside the business, to a much greater extent than in a paid role.

As both resources and funds are at a premium in voluntary organisations, you will probably end up taking on more responsibility than in a paid position and while this isn’t for everyone, the chance to gain skills and network in a number of capacities will stand you in good stead.

The decision to leave conventional employment to embark on a portfolio career is often fuelled by a desire for more variety and voluntary board positions offers this in spades. Charity boards increasingly function through a number of specialist committees, so while it’s important to ascertain if your experience and competencies match a particular vacancy, landing the right role will allow you to hone your existing skills.

There is a relatively steep learning curve to working in such a highly-regulated and yet collaborative sector and trustees, especially in smaller charities, will often be expected to participate in away-days or fundraising events. While the responsibility and hands-on nature of such roles might require a significant commitment, there are few other sectors which offer such an accelerated acquisition of knowledge, skills and contacts, or that add as much value to a portfolio CV.

Though remuneration is undeniably a top priority for most aspiring portfolio professionals, building experience is the key to long-term success. Betty Thayler, visiting lecturer at Cranfield Business School, advises ‘young executives to take on a Trustee role early in their career so that they can get the experience of being on a Board and meet other Trustees to learn from their experience’.

Anyone looking to land a lucrative board role should seriously consider making a pro bono position their first step on the path to portfolio success.

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