Board Matching the Silicon Valley Way

What a thrill to see headlines about Palindrome Advisors, a year-old nonprofit that matches business executives with nonprofit boards, mentors social entrepreneurs, and holds "salons" for board members to discuss nonprofit challenges and opportunities. Engaging corporate professionals on nonprofit boards through a thoughtful and purposeful matching process, and training and coaching them for successful service is the most powerful way that businesses can help advance the nonprofit sector in the U.S. and around the world. It's also the best way to develop global leadership. On a large scale, helping to build better boards with quality matching could be transformative.

Having trained and placed a few hundred corporate leaders on nonprofit boards for the past eighteen years, I have seen the impact that these board candidates have in advancing nonprofits, improving communities, and even becoming better leaders back at their companies. My early experience in training and placing corporate executives on nonprofit boards was considered so audacious that it warranted a page one article in The Wall Street Journal. Through my NYC-based firm for the past several years, I have been training and placing executives on boards on behalf of global corporations and private equity firms, providing CSR consulting to businesses, and consulting to NGO and nonprofit boards. My book, "Leveraging Good Will: Strengthening Nonprofits by Engaging Businesses," (Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 2005) provides a blueprint for communities seeking to establish robust and effective board-matching programs.

Keys to excellence in board-matching include the following:

  1. Work with each board candidate one-on-one to understand their qualifications as well as their potential interests. Yes, you do want to match them to boards based on their passions, but most people have a variety of issues about which they can be passionate about. Most of my candidates are interested to know where they can add value, and also want to learn about a range of possibilities with regard to organizations—global, national, and regional.
  2. Conduct a needs assessment of each nonprofit where you might potentially introduce a board candidate. Understand the revenue model, and the organization's challenges and opportunities, as well as the mission. Become acquainted with the CEO, the board leadership, and the board culture, and make a site visit if there is a domestic/local site. Listen to and understand the qualifications they are looking for in a board candidate.
  3. Respect the nonprofit's process for vetting, selecting, and electing board members once you have made the introduction.
  4. Train and prepare board candidates about what it means to be a board member, and explain what will be expected of them for each nonprofit that you will discuss with them as a potential option.
  5. Provide ongoing coaching and seminars to help board members to be effective and to enjoy the experience.

It's not a good match unless the candidate says, "I can't believe you found me this board," and the nonprofit leadership says, "I can't believe you found us this board member"—still after a couple of board meetings. One measure of success is the percentage of people whom you place who ascend to board leadership positions. An increase in the nonprofit's budget size is not necessarily a sign of success; in some cases, a better outcome might be for an organization to merge, or to become more focused, streamlined and downsized.

It appears that Palindrome is just the high quality organization that is needed to advance nonprofits that are improving lives and communities. As we see the emergence of sophisticated, effective board-matching programs like the one offered by Palindrome Advisors, it will be exciting and important to see new iterations, what works well, and how success is measured. With the advent of Palindrome, I believe that corporate volunteerism is reaching a thrilling new high.

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