Did anyone ever take you aside and say those words to you? Me neither. Yet it used to happen all the time, back when people stayed in one company long enough that there was time to plan for the future. The older executive would take the new recruit aside and teach them the subjects that they never got in school: how to work within the system, how to form alliances, how to help one another other climb the corporate ladder.
So, what would you advise the bright young professional accountant who has just passed the exams?
I would advise them to join the Board of Directors of a charity. Why? It's not just that there is a crying need for professional accounting in the not-for-profit sector. It's also a fast way to get practical experience working with a Board of Directors. Charity Boards are welcoming. Board members have the patience to help you along. But you need to be strategic:
- Choose a charity you believe in. Then it won't feel like work.
- As a professional accountant, they will want you to be Treasurer. Accept the position for one term (usually 2 or 3 years) then actively recruit a replacement so you can move to another position and learn new skills.
- Make sure you donate money as well as time to the cause. It increases your credibility.
- Keep moving up, recruiting a replacement as you go. Always ensure you bring fresh blood into the organization.
- Focus on how you can help others and keep relationships active. That's called networking.
Learning New Skills
The broader your skills, the farther you can go in your career. Professional accounting skills are a great base, but if you can add revenue generating experience, such as fundraising or grant proposals, you have a dynamite combination.
Networking is more than just passing your business card around at an event. It's about establishing and maintaining relationships. The best way to build a relationship is to help someone. The second best way is to ask for someone's help. Since there's no way to predict who will be able to help you in future, try to be helpful to a wide variety of people and see what emerges.
Some Board members take a passive role. They read what they are sent and respond. Others take a more active role. They research the organization's needs. They participate in planning. They take an active role in furthering the organization's objectives. That's the kind of Director you need to be.
Charitable work is often called its own reward. That's true, but there is a practical side as well. The issues you face on a charity Board, such as prioritizing resources, dealing with personality conflicts, wading through government filing requirements and forecasting the political future, are exactly the same issues you face on the Board of a for-profit corporation.
So, go get 'em, Tiger! And remember to mention me in your memoirs.