Philanthropy: Is Your Company Squandering a CSR Opportunity?

If your company is philanthropic, but you're not matching your executives to nonprofit boards in a purposeful way, then your company is missing out. Missing out on a number of valuable opportunities, including: government and community relations, economic development, leadership development, and effective stewardship of your costly grant-making. This is particularly relevant for companies that are expanding into new markets here in the U.S. or abroad, businesses that wish to engender good will, and corporations that seek to further develop their executives for leadership.

If your business is contributing $500,000, $5 million, or tens of millions in philanthropy, you can leverage your investment for benefits for your company and employees, and a higher impact in strengthening the communities where you have an interest. The key is to a) train and prepare your executives to be effective board members and potential board leaders, and b) place your executives on nonprofit boards in a thoughtful and purposeful process based on the interests of each person and the needs of each nonprofit.

The Win-Win-Win

Benefits for your company:

  1. Government and community relations: Be a key player, collaborating with government and civic leaders, in developing the economies and health and welfare of the communities where your company has an interest.
  2. Economic development: Ensure the vitality and sustainability of the communities where your customers and employees live and work. It's good for business.
  3. Leadership development: Provide unique experiential learning opportunities for your executives to build their leadership skills. On boards they will engage with peers to envision the enterprise's greater potential, create consensus, build a revenue model for success, generate revenues, provide legal and fiduciary oversight, assess outcomes, and lead for success. These are valuable business skills your executives will bring back to work.
  4. Stewardship of grant-making: Ensure the effectiveness of the organizations where your company invests funds.
  5. Board governance: Provide your executives with direct experience about the roles and responsibilities of boards, ethics and accountability, and crisis communications and management; they'll be better executives for it.
  6. Expertise on regional and global issues: Build expertise among your executives regarding regional, national, and global issues related to economic development, renewable energy and resources, education, health care, poverty alleviation, housing, emerging markets, and so on. This is knowledge that is useful for your company in making strategic decisions.
  7. Relationship-building: Provide opportunities for your executives to meet colleagues from diverse backgrounds who work at other corporations, as well as academia, nonprofits, government, and so on.

Benefits for nonprofits:

  1. Board building: Gain access to high quality board candidates with valuable business skills, such as strategic planning, finance, accounting, law, human resources, government and public relations, and so on.
  2. Fundraising: Gain board members from donor companies—often in the best position to raise funds and advocate for the nonprofit.
  3. Resources: Gain access to other executives at the same company who have skills and expertise that is useful; to company volunteers; and potentially to a variety of other amenities, such as meeting space, printing, etc.
  4. Public relations: Potentially gain access to community leaders via the corporate board member.

Benefits for the community:

  1. Stronger and more effective nonprofits
  2. Healthier and more educated citizens
  3. Better community resources, such as parks, recreation, museums, and so on
  4. More vital and sustainable economy

Training and Placing Your Executives on Nonprofit Boards

The key to a good match between a company executive and a board is this: the fit between the board candidate's interests and the nonprofit board's needs. Success is when the newly matched board member is sitting in her first board meeting and thinks to herself, "Wow, I love this organization and this board. I'm so excited." And when the nonprofit CEO and board chair are thinking, "Gosh, we are so lucky to have gotten her on the board. She's just who we needed."

When the fit is right, then the executive on the board will happily expend the time and effort to add value, thereby reflecting well on herself and the company, and advancing the nonprofit. She'll delight in her board service. It's a win-win-win. In such cases, the board member is likely to rise to a leadership position, adding even further to the value of the experience for the company, herself, and the nonprofit.

Successful matches happen through a thoughtful and purposeful board matching process. And by the way, I rarely meet a board candidate who knows what issue interests them from the outset of the process. Most candidates have many interests, and seek to learn about a variety of opportunities. As one candidate was deliberating over his final choice at the end of a four month process—a choice between a global, national, and regional board—he sighed and mused, "This is like a process of self-discovery."

Board training is equally important. It should be highly interactive and offered on an ongoing basis while board members move forward facing dynamic challenges and, hopefully, ascend to leadership positions.

Once your company invests funds in the community, make sure you are making the most of the opportunity. It's in everyone's interests to have more vital and vibrant communities and effective leaders.

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