Business people who take their commitments seriously add value when they serve on nonprofit boards. They bring much-needed skills, experience, and expertise, as well as company resources. In the best cases, they also make financial contributions and fundraise.
Some of you might wonder whether and what value business people derive from their nonprofit board experiences, in addition to the personal reward and satisfaction of helping to make their communities and world a better place?
Below are responses from several business people. Please feel free to add your own opinions in the comments section at the end of this post.
Q: The primary purpose for serving on a nonprofit board is to advance a mission in service to the community. At the same time, has your nonprofit board experience made a difference in your business/professional life, and if so, then how?
A: "I've been involved with several nonprofit boards throughout my career including my role as Board Chair of the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. One thing I've learned is the importance of collaboration between the nonprofit, business and civic communities to create meaningful change. Serving on boards provides incomparable experience motivating groups from different sectors to work together to achieve a common goal. It's priceless experience that has unquestionably made me a more effective business leader."
A: "I have found my role serving on the City Year NY Associate Board incredibly fulfilling on both a business and personal level. Board service is one of our corporate responsibility goals at my firm where we take a strategic approach to community relations and our senior leadership makes personal commitments to the organizations that we support. In addition to helping the community, board service can help strengthen business relationships, especially when commitments to particular causes and social values are shared with clients."
A: "Yes. Nonprofit experience has influenced my professional life in the following ways:
- Going the extra mile to help people on my team and within the company achieve professional success. A natural extension of ERDA's mission - "Improve the lives of people in public housing" and the overarching goal of all nonprofits - help people and communities. There are opportunities to improve lives of people in all settings so why limit it to public housing or to nonprofit work!
- Relying more on influence than authority to drive an organization. In a board setting, one achieves results through influence and cogent arguments. This helps create buy-in and strong work relationships.
- Subconsciously thinking about the social impact of business decisions in addition to factors such as revenue and profitability."
Q: What leadership or "business" skills do you find transferable from the nonprofit boardroom to your business world, and the other way around — from your business world to the nonprofit boardroom?
A: "The nonprofit boards that I sit on are larger than most typical company boards. The larger size requires greater structure for the boards to function smoothly and, as a result, I've found them to follow more regimented governance procedures than corporate boards sometimes do. Additionally, they utilize committees more often than is typically the case on a corporate board. I've been able to transfer some of these lessons, particularly those around active committee usage, to corporate board situations.
"On the other hand, I've found corporate Boards to have a stronger culture of tracking performance and holding management accountable based on granular, quantifiable measures. In a recent experience working as part of a board committee for one of my nonprofit boards, I was able to port some of the lessons learned in this realm to the nonprofit organization. As a result, that nonprofit now plans and tracks some of its development and finance related activities in a more detailed and useful manner than it did before."
A: "Companies and nonprofit organizations offer different career rewards. The cultures of these two sectors vary greatly and rarely do they emulate each otherâ€™s best practices. Nonprofits are mission driven and reward employees for their grueling hours and modest pay by continuously satisfying their passion. In companies, employees are aware of the paths to success and cognizant of their career trajectory through performance management and rigorous succession planning. The impact, if combined, would be quite striking."
A: "Nonprofits struggle with many of the same problems as for-profits do - clear vision, prioritized strategies and a team aligned on reaching common goals. I've had the honor of working directly and independently with leadership at nonprofits to tackle those tough issues. Exposure to a wide variety of leadership styles and organizational challenges provides me a wealth of experiences to draw on and the confidence to work directly with leaders on their most pressing issues."
Senior Associate, Marakon, A Charles River Associates Company
Member, Strategic Planning Committee, East River Development Alliance
Volunteer consultant to a global nonprofit board, and to a regional NYC board