"The time has come for corporations to extend their time, their products, their expertise, and their values in innovative ways," Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks Coffee wrote in "Invest in Communities to Advance Capitalism" a recent Harvard Business Review post. I fully agree. Furthermore, for more than two decades, I have seen that the greatest impact that companies can have in advancing regional and global education, healthcare, the environment, and economic development in order to strengthen their own business prospects is by training and placing their executives on NGO/nonprofit boards through a thoughtful and purposeful process.
Preparing and engaging company executives and professionals on NGO/nonprofit boards based on their individual interests and qualifications results in many wins. Individuals bring strategic business acumen and personal passion to organizations that need their help; develop leadership skills; gain direct knowledge of vital community and international issues; bring their newfound learning back to the work environment; and are ultimately best prepared to lead their companies, communities, and the world for a better future.
The board-matching process itself is important in ensuring that each person finds the board where they will be excited to fully contribute, and where each board is eager to have that very individual. As Shultz says, and as I said in my CSR prediction for 2011, the days of paternalistic, command and control employee volunteerism are numbered; employees want and must be part of the process of deciding where and how they will contribute.
Nonprofit boards provide a unique breeding ground for leadership development. Imagine a CEO sitting down with her team members, all of whom are on boards to which they have been thoughtfully matched, and for which they have been trained and coached. Imagine the range of experience on that team that is relevant to business decision-making, not to mention the good will among key community leaders. Furthermore, nonprofit board service is the ultimate experience in ethics, accountability, leadership, group dynamics, and crisis management and communications.
Having trained and placed several hundred people from corporations on NGO/nonprofit boards, and coached the majority of these individuals as they have ascended into board leadership positions, I have seen their personal and professional development, and their profoundly important impact on nonprofits and their communities.
Companies that integrate board service with strategic philanthropy, volunteerism, pro bono service, and in kind service, are fully leveraging their opportunities to build a better world. As Schultz says, "Take a page from the playbook that makes us succeed in the marketplace and put the same resources and innovative muscle into redefining corporate citizenship. This is not charity. It's imperative. Let's get to work."
[Image: Flickr user Adrian Nier]