This Week’s “Mad Men”: “Philanthropy is the Gateway to Power”

September 8 – For a “Mad Men” (AMC TV) junkie who also happens to thrive on philanthropy and service, this week’s episode was a particular thrill! Ad man boss Bertram Cooper, played by Robert Morse, reports enthusiastically to Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, that the client was so impressed by Draper that he was invited to join the board of the soon-to-be-formed Museum of Early American Folk Art. When Draper asks why that would be of interest, Cooper declares triumphantly, “Philanthropy is the gateway to power!”

This was back in the early 60’s. For the most prominent boards in Manhattan and other major cities, the importance of being invited to a “power board” hasn’t changed. CEOs of successful businesses want to sit together on these boards. Bless them. We all benefit from their largesse, because there is a high level of giving that is attached with each of these board seats!

One thing has changed, however. By the 1980’s, corporations shifted their giving and service programs to be more aligned with the corporate mission and more strategic in accomplishing measurable outcomes for the company and the community. Volunteerism also became more inclusive involving employees of all levels, fostering team-building and community spirit, as well as productive service.

More recently, companies are recognizing the importance of involving younger and more diverse executives and professionals on a wide range of regional, national, and global nonprofit boards as a means to develop their companies’ future leaders, while supporting meaningful, high-impact board service that will improve communities. Given that there are over a million nonprofits in the U.S. alone, there are plenty of boards to go around, and a great deal of important work to be done!AK