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The 5- to 6-Figure Side Hustle That’s Perfect for Pretirement

If you’ve built a legacy of leadership in your corporate or nonprofit career, board membership may be right for you.

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young woman standing confidently in a board room
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What steps are you taking toward a fulfilling and secure retirement? Share your ideas in the comments below.

I’ve always been good at coming up with business ideas—that other businesses should do. Just last week I dreamt up a new service that I wish my favorite spa would provide. While I typically chalk my ideas up to creative daydreaming, it turns out there might be a lucrative pretirement income stream for sisters who are business minded and have a mix of leadership skills and a willingness to help organizations succeed.

Many companies look to a board of directors to perform such duties as advising the company, providing financial oversight and fundraising. Companies that sell shares to the public are required to have a board to protect the interests of the company's shareholders, but many private companies and non-profit organizations also depend on the leadership and expertise of board members.

Between 2020 and 2023, Black women gained 86 board seats at Fortune 500 companies, representing a 47% increase. On top of that there are many smaller firms, Black-owned businesses and nonprofits that are also looking for people to fill board vacancies.

As a board member, you may attend periodic meetings and vote on issues pertaining to the company. You also may be asked to represent the organization in other ways. While board members at the largest Fortune 500 companies can make upwards of six figures, a survey by Compensation Advisory Partners (CAP) and Family Business and Private Company Director magazines found that the median board retainer in 2022 was $30,000 a year and the median fee for attending a meeting was $2,500. Some large nonprofit boards pay board members, but many nonprofits do not, and state laws may weigh in on compensation issues depending upon where you live.

I don't know about you, but those numbers sound pretty good to me. But here's the reality: finding a paid board position may take a little bit of work. Just as Black women are underrepresented in leadership positions in corporate America, we're underrepresented on boards. But here's the good news – we're making strides. Between 2020 and 2023, Black women gained 86 board seats at Fortune 500 companies, representing a 47% increase. On top of that there are many smaller firms, Black-owned businesses and nonprofits that are also looking for people to fill board vacancies.

Here's how you might join a corporate board

Become an expert in your field. Boards are looking for different things from different people. If you’re an accountant, a board might seek you out for financial advice. If you’re in public relations, they may want you to provide insight into their marketing strategy. C. Nicole Mason, former president and CEO of the thinktank the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, sits on three nonprofit boards and says when organizations approach her for board positions, “they're getting a high-level policy researcher who understands racial equity and the economy,” she says. “They're also getting someone who can scale an organization.” Know your strengths and continue to improve them.

Seek out mentors and sponsors. Mentors are those who share their knowledge and help guide you professionally while sponsors are those who advocate professionally on your behalf. In your bid to be tapped for board positions, it's better to have both since they can connect you with opportunities and explain why you would make the right fit. DeLibra Wesley, founder of staffing company National Recruitment Consultants, was approached to join the board of the American Staffing Association when another board member brought her name up to fill a board vacancy. “You have to have not just a mentor, but a sponsor -- someone that's going to mention your name behind closed doors and go, you know what? I think this person is the person for the job,’” Wesley says. You might find potential mentors and sponsors by attending events by groups dedicated to the advancement of Black professionals such as Black Women on Boards and the Executive Leadership Council.

Start early. Keith D. Dorsey, a managing partner with global executive search firm Boyden, interviewed 12 Black women who sit on corporate boards to find out how they landed those positions and published his research. One of his findings: It takes time to build the connections and skills that are likely to pay off down the line. That means if you think board membership is for you, start networking with that in mind as much as 10 years beforehand, Dorsey's research suggests. Look for ways to build skills or earn certifications that show off your leadership acumen. Also, it might be helpful to increase visibility by joining smaller boards. Wesley accepted unpaid positions with a couple of small boards early in her career because she wanted to gain experience. Also, be strategic about the jobs you take in your career. Job boards and small business resources may help you in your search.

Build a powerful network. People who serve on boards typically don’t find the opportunities so much as the opportunities find them. Many are chosen based on who is in their professional network, says Mason. Someone might learn about you from your profile on social media or see an interview you did in a publication. “You create attention and people see it and they may approach you to join a board,” she says, Take the time to make those LinkedIn connections and comment on relevant posts to raise your visibility. You never know when you impress someone with your profile. One woman Dorsey interviewed said a good network includes recruiters, CEOs, current board members and other professionals.

Make your intentions known. While no one’s suggesting that you post your board aspirations on your Facebook feed, share your interest with the Sister CEO, the nonprofit executive or a current board member you know. “I tell people that I’m looking for board seats,” Wesley says. For example, when she met another staffing executive, they asked Wesley how they could help her. “When somebody says that to you, you have to be honest and not afraid and they respect you for it,” Wesley says. “And I just listed off three things that I wanted her to help me with.” When you share your aspirations with colleagues, they may know of opportunities or connect you with someone who does. Also, when talking to other business leaders, look for ways to show you can think strategically about business whether you're commenting on a company's social media campaign or sharing your latest professional success.

Don’t ignore volunteer opportunities. Joan Kuhl is author of Dig Your Heels In, a guide to helping women succeed despite gender and racial inequities in corporate America. In an interview with Girl Scouts of America, she noted that serving on nonprofit boards can give you valuable experience that may help you serve on for-profit boards later. There is value in widening your network, gaining expertise in new areas, raising your visibility and gaining experience as a leader.

Companies and organizations are looking for people who can help them better compete and achieve their financial goals. Why can't it be you?

Related: This is Pretirement
Pretirement refers to that stage of your life when you need to take charge of your financial future so you can feel more confident about retirement. Discover how you can create a personalized action plan tailored to your current situation and long-term goals. Use these free Pretirement resources to get started and stay on track.

What steps are you taking toward a fulfilling and secure retirement? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Work-&-Money