By James D’Ambrosio

JamesProfile1TwitterHaving written about major news items lately, I’ll devote this column to professional development. A few years ago, earning a certificate in nonprofit management, one of my best instructors told the class that if you really want to learn about how nonprofits operate, join a board of directors. Sound advice, both then and now. (I’ve served on the board of a small PR association and plan to eventually join a nonprofit board.)

Learning on the job and/or earning an advanced credential — M.S. in nonprofit management, MBA, nonprofit management certificate, etc. — is good, but can only take you so far. Case in point: Some years ago, working in PR for a large school system, one responsibility was covering board meetings. Here I learned about larger issues facing the district and how key decision-makers guided the school system  — something far beyond my regular job responsibilities.


1) LEARN GOOD GOVERNANCE: The board’s job is to govern the organization by discussing and making decisions on big-picture issues — strategic plans, business/fund-raising strategies, staffing, agency planning, etc. It’s NOT about managing daily operations or specific projects; that’s for the executive director and staff. Not understanding this can create problems and hinder a board’s effectiveness.

2) APPLY SKILLS IN A MANAGEMENT CAPACITY: Within your areas of expertise, you’ll have opportunities to join committees and take on projects applying your talents to further the organization. For myself, it could be developing a communications plan or outlining a series of special events for the year.

3) LEARN BUSINESS PROTOCOL: One of the first things I learned at board meetings was formality — following “Robert’s Rules of Order,” a book of rules designed to be adopted and used by a deliberative body. This included voting procedures, a transcriptionist documenting discussions/decisions, executive sessions for personnel matters, annual meetings, new business, old business, unfinished business, etc.

4) LEARN FROM EXECUTIVES: Board members are often professionals at the top of their field, sharing expertise and giving back. Much can be learned from those with more experience or holding positions we aspire to. 

5) EXPAND YOUR NETWORK: In today’s environment, it’s crucial to have a network of professionals with strong knowledge of work, skills and abilities. By demonstrating your value, over time, people will notice and respect your talents. This can lead to more professional references, learning about unadvertised job openings, new networking opportunities, etc.

6) INCREASE FUTURE VALUE: If you’re planning to move into management, the experience is invaluable. You’ll bring more to the table than others who haven’t made this professional investment: you’ve been tested in dealing with core organizational/strategic issues and better equipped to honestly say “been there, done that.”



Care to share your experiences serving on a nonprofit board?


By James D’Ambrosio

During these difficult economic times, I’ve heard quite a bit from others about the tough job market and how difficult it is to make headway. I agree: it is very challenging. However, there’s risk involved in overemphasizing the negative, which causes some people to give up. Better to stay positive and do what you can to increase your marketability. Seneca, the Roman dramatist, philosopher and politician who lived from 5 BC – 65 AD once aptly noted: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”    

Given this positive perspective, there are things you can do to bolster your professional standing with relatively small investments in time, money and effort. Whether you’re a recent grad, experienced professional, executive or career-changer, one of the suggestions below might work for you.   


1) JOIN A PROFESSIONAL GROUP IN YOUR FIELD: This is one of the best investments you can make. In addition to networking with like-minded people, you can serve on committees or join the board and showcase your skills to others who may be in position to help. Many groups have member directories, job banks and other resources. Attend meetings regularly, take an active role, and you’ll get noticed. 

2) TAKE A COURSE: Technology and global competition has resulted in information becoming outdated more quickly. What was important a year ago can rapidly fade in importance. By continually expanding your knowledge and skills, you’ll be ahead of others who don’t. A number of people in my professional circles are now embracing life-long learning  as a necessity.

3) MAXIMIZE THE VALUE OF LINKEDIN: With 160+ million professionally-minded users in 200 countries, you can’t afford not to be part of this network. Open an account, develop your profile, and upload a professional-quality photo. You can join groups in your field/industry,  sharing your expertise and learning from others with similar backgrounds. In addition, numerous apps enhance your presence. If you’re a writer like me, you can use Box Net to showcase work samples. You can also answer questions submitted by others. I recently read from a credible source that nearly 80 percent of hiring managers use LinkedIn as their primary source for recruiting talent. 

4) START A BLOG: Have a body of knowledge about a particular subject? Passionate about a cause? Consider blogging. While it does require an investment in time — learning technical aspects and posting regularly — it provides a public platform to demonstrate your knowledge to a wide audience. In the process, you’ll bolster your online presence: over time, a good blog associated with your name shows up high in Google searches — an invaluable asset in today’s digital world.  

5) VOLUNTEER WORK: If you’re in position to do so, volunteer at a nonprofit. In addition to giving back, you can make new contacts, develop new skills, network, and learn about open positions. Just 6-10 hours per week is sufficient. A few years back I took this approach and it led to a paid position. You can search hundreds of volunteer opportunities at nonprofits in the U.S. and worldwide by region and specialty at



What other low-cost initiatives do you believe can increase your professional value?

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