By Matt Kouri
Most business executives choose to join the governing board of a charitable organization primarily out of a passion for its mission. Whether the mission is eradicating a disease which has affected a relative, ensuring the less fortunate have the same opportunities they were given, advancing a cause that is core to their faith, or some other cause, executives most often agree to serve out of a sense of altruism. And these are the right reasons.
But increasingly, astute CEOs are recognizing that serving themselves and even encouraging or flat-out requiring other leaders in their companies to serve on nonprofit boards, can bring potentially powerful benefits to their companies and to their people. The nonprofit governing board is not simply a group of volunteers meeting once a month to hear stories, ask a few questions, and exchange pleasantries. Similar to a for-profit board, these groups are empowered by state and federal law with the duties of loyalty, care, and obedience for the nonprofit organization, and they are the closest thing to a group of “shareholders” one can find in the nonprofit sector. As such, they are held to a high standard of performance and governance, and with that can come both incredible individual professional development and opportunities for advancement of the company they represent.
Where else can a company send an emerging executive who, for the most part, focuses his or her day job on one particular aspect of the business (be it marketing, IT, product development, etc.) for the kind of free, cross-cutting managerial training that being on a nonprofit board can provide? Nonprofit boards deal continuously with real-life governance and management issues that touch on all aspects of running a business, including strategy-setting, long-range planning, financial forecasting, advocacy, and much more. I’ve personally known dozens of “mid-level” managers who, in their 30’s, joined a well-run nonprofit board, and after several years on that board advanced well past their peers in terms of promotion and managerial responsibility in their companies, attributable in large part with the “executive education” they received by being on a board.
Nonprofit boards are also typically a hotbed of relationship development with other business and community leaders, and as such can be a prime element of a company’s business development strategy. Where better might a business leader turn for clients and/or B-to-B services than to individuals with whom you share a passion and a level of trust because of your common affiliation with a charitable cause? The 15 minutes before and after many nonprofit board meetings are often full of great business development conversations, and most nonprofit leaders love to see that happening in their boardrooms.
In Central Texas alone, Greenlights for Nonprofit Success recently gathered data that documented 7,000+ empty nonprofit board seats. Extrapolated across the state, there could be a need for more than 100,000 business leaders to step up and serve.
The need is evident, the benefits are many and clear, yet many CEOs still see volunteerism, even this form of “leadership volunteerism”, as more of a distraction from, rather than a prime contributor to, business success. While some businesses (most typically law firms, or CPA firms, and banks) do a great job of promoting nonprofit board service as a core part of corporate culture, and in some cases even requiring it for promotion, most unfortunately do not.
But for our communities in Texas to be stronger through a stronger nonprofit sector, it is going to take a new (or renewed) focus from CEOs on both the charitable and the profitable rationale for increased board service.
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