Nonprofit Board-Matching: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Nightmare: You wound up on a nonprofit board that's not a fit for you. How did this happen? It started when you decided that you wanted to serve on a nonprofit board, since you've achieved success in your business career, have expertise to offer, a bit of money, and you want to give back. So you went online, and picked an issue you thought interested you, picked a nonprofit that appeared to be in your charitable giving range.  Soon enough, you were on a board. Oops. First board meeting, you're wondering what you are doing there. This is not what you expected.

This is not only a nightmare for you. It's a nightmare for the nonprofit. You're disappointed, maybe embarrassed, and not sure what to do. Not willing to fork over the $5,000 they now expect from you, nor to attend endless meetings. The nonprofit is annoyed to have a new board member who is not doing what was expected.

Imagine this scenario instead: Your company has a board program through which board experts train and place your firm's executives and professionals on nonprofit boards. The board experts have been immersed in building nonprofits, consulting to nonprofit boards, and placing and coaching business executives interested in nonprofit boards. Your board expert guides you through a process of exploring boards that address a variety of issues in innovative ways you never even imagined.

Your board expert works with you until you find the board that really excites you; the variety of nonprofits might be global, national, and regional. Before you go on the board, you learn from your board expert what the circumstances are on the nonprofit board and at the organization and how you can add value.  You meet the nonprofit's CEO and board leader, make a site visit, and review key organization materials. The process might take a few months; it's a process of discovery. You're also trained and prepared about the role of nonprofit boards as well as the role of the particular board you are going on.

Because the match is so purposeful, your board experience is likely to be rewarding and an opportunity for professional and leadership development. From the nonprofit's perspective, you are likely to be a highly effective and engaged board member, and even to advance into a board leadership role as an officer or committee chair.

From the company's perspective, their executives and professionals will develop into better leaders and professionals, reflect positively on the company, steward the company's philanthropic investments, and advance nonprofits in making communities more vibrant and successful.

Companies that invest in a deliberative process for board-matching will see the greatest benefits.

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  • Chris MacDonald


    This is really interesting.

    But can you clarify: are you talking about placing executives on the boards of nonprofits that are receiving donations from your company? If so, how do you handle conflicts of interest? Given that, as a Board Member, one's primary allegiance must be to the charitable organization, the executive cannot be expected to be serving the *company's* interests while in that position.


  • madeleine mcgee

    Great article - How many cities / companies do you see doing this/

    madeleine mcgee
    SC Association of Nonprofit Organizations