How Corporate Leaders Can Align Their Values And Maximize Impact On A Nonprofit Board
Nonprofits everywhere rely on the generosity of business leaders to contribute to their cause, both personally and professionally. And while they certainly appreciate financial donations, your time is equally, if not more, valuable.
Serving on a nonprofit board gives corporate leaders like you a fruitful opportunity to engage in the missions you care most about, further refine your leadership skills, demonstrate corporate social responsibility, build your network and help nonprofits develop stronger strategic plans.
According to Kevin L. Hagan, Chief Executive of the nonprofit turnaround firm Thrive Impact, and former CEO at Feed the Children and the American Diabetes Association, it can be harder than you might expect to effectively translate your business expertise to a nonprofit board.
Still, it’s worth the effort. Serving on a nonprofit board is important work and can be incredibly valuable to your career, the organization and the community you serve. But before you accept an invitation to join, let’s take a look at some of Kevin’s tips to get you ready for this opportunity and maximize your impact.
1. Prepare for passion
There are countless nonprofits that cover a multitude of missions and geographies, but there is one thing they all have in common: passion. Passion runs deep in the nonprofit sector, and mission-driven staff expect their board to share a level of personal connection to the organization.
Make sure your motivations for joining go beyond adding the name of the nonprofit to your resume or “checking the box” on a professional requirement. Choose a mission that uniquely speaks to your heart.
Once you’re there, invest time getting to know members of the board and the executive team and learn why the mission resonates with each of them. Ensuring that the board feels like you are “one of them” and that you also want what’s best for the mission will reap dividends in trust and consensus when issues arise later.
2. Get invested, but stay rational
All that passion is inspiring, but it can also lead to a myopic perspective on business decisions. Sitting in a board meeting, you may wonder why a nonprofit with a serious budget deficit would consider investing in a new program, no matter how worthy the cause.
There are many reasons board members argue for decisions or changes to be made, and it’s crucial to distinguish between emotional, political and objective drivers. Above all, you have a responsibility to govern the organization and make compassionate, but rational, business decisions.
3. Know where governance starts and ends
A board’s role is to govern the organization, not manage or intervene in its day-to-day operations. Your responsibilities as a board member should be clearly articulated during your onboarding, and if they aren’t, you should ask.
Here they are in two words: You govern. That’s it.
That means you: hire, evaluate, and terminate the chief executive; ensure accountability and integrity in the financials; create a strategic plan and vision for the organization; and ensure that this strategic plan is resourced, supported and evaluated on a regular basis.
It is the CEO’s job to make board members aware when they overstep their role and are interjecting themselves into the operations of the organization, but you can imagine how tense and uncomfortable that ends up being for everyone. A great board member is highly engaged in governance, but lets the CEO and staff run the organization.
4. Recognize that goal setting isn’t what you’re used to
In the corporate world, it’s important to know your customer—simply defined, the person who purchases your product or service. Business goals target the needs of customers. But for nonprofits, the definition of customer gets much more complex, and you have to understand the relationship layers of clients, beneficiaries and funders.
For example, if you serve on the board of a child hunger organization, the client may be a mother the organization targets with nutrition support, the beneficiary would be the child who receives the food, and the funder could be an individual donor who isn’t connected to either.
Setting organizational goals that keep all the nonprofit audiences and constituents in mind is challenging, but critical. It’s not the linear process you’re used to in business. If you’re doing it right, you will learn to appreciate the nuance of making decisions that serve everyone and positively affect the entire community.
5. Bring your network with you
The surefire way to become a beloved and effective board member is to add immediate value by opening up access to important relationships. As a business leader, you undoubtedly have a long list of contacts and resources at your disposal—use them.
Access looks different for every nonprofit, but it can range from introducing staff to new donors or high-net-worth individuals, to asking your corporate friends for event sponsorships, to securing donated space or pro bono services or to creating a volunteer engagement strategy at your company.
The best place to start is at the top. Introducing the chief executive to your personal contacts will immediately build trust and a deeper relationship. The magic of effective boards happens when you form a real connection with the CEO, and you can develop this relationship quickly by putting skin in the game.
6. Own your area of expertise
It’s likely that you were recruited to the board because they needed your particular business skills. Be prepared to serve as an expert in that area.
When issues arise or debates break out, speak up and shape the discussions on the topics you know best. Your voice may be the one that helps the organization make the right decision—or saves them from making the wrong one.
Board dynamics are easily shaped by who speaks first and how credible they are to weigh in on the topic. Come prepared to advise and help the board effectively utilize the talent around the table.
Md. Habibur Rahman (Habib)
Assistant Officer (F&A)
Daffodil International University (DIU)
Corporate Office, Daffodil Family
Phone: +88 02 9138234-5 (Ext: 140)
Cell: 01847-140060, 01812-588460