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The Best Ice Breaker for Business Development

When walking into a reception filled with people I need to meet, I’ve always been able to turn it into an enjoyable experience by asking people what kind of volunteer work they do. It’s even more fun for me when they’re involved on nonprofit boards; this opens up a world of wonderful conversation–all the way from learning about the work of the organization, to how the person found it, to the fascinating group dynamics of boards, to leadership, etc.

When walking into a reception filled with people I need to meet, I’ve always been able to turn it into an enjoyable experience by asking people what kind of volunteer work they do. It’s even more fun for me when they’re involved on nonprofit boards; this opens up a world of wonderful conversation–all the way from learning about the work of the organization, to how the person found it, to the fascinating group dynamics of boards, to leadership, etc.

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At lunch today, sitting with two corporate CEOs who were meeting for the first time, I realized that the community-involvement-ice-breaker conversation is not merely my own selfish delight and learning experience; this topic is also the perfect conversation opener and bonding opportunity for business development purposes.

At the CEO level, the topic takes on an additional dimension as they compare the leadership styles and opportunities presented by their respective CSR approaches, and the costs and benefits of philanthropy and service. Usually, CEOs who are more strategic and invested in CSR take a longer-term view of the value to the company; they talk about building a highly productive culture, attracting and retaining outstanding talent, and leadership development.

For those of you who are already involved in philanthropy and service, try talking about it with clients and customers as well as new people you meet. For those of you who are not involved, consider getting involved–mostly because it will make your life more rewarding and fulfilling–but, also perhaps to join others in this great conversation and to advance your company and the world.

City Year’s vision is that one day the most commonly asked question of a young person will be, “Where are you going to do your service year?” Perhaps we’re approaching the day when a commonly asked question of a business person is, “How are you involved in the community?”

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About the author

Korngold provides strategy consulting to global corporations on sustainability, facilitating corporate-nonprofit partnerships, and training and placing hundreds of business executives on NGO/nonprofit boards for 20+ years. She provides strategy and board governance consulting to NGO/nonprofit boards, foundations, and educational and healthcare institutions. Korngold's latest book is "A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems…Where Governments Cannot," published by Palgrave Macmillan for release on 1/7/14

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