CSR Career Management Tip - Serve On A Nonprofit Board

Effective career management for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) professionals involves developing the ability to develop mutually beneficial relationships with people in and beyond one's company.   Furthermore, strategic alliances between companies and nonprofits aroudn a specific social issues can lead to mutually beneficial results.  For example, the strategic alliance between Symantec and Science Buddies is a win-win situation:  As a high tech firm, Symantec would benefit from increasing the number of students interested in the sciences.  This partnership might also benefit Symantec with regards to their talent acquisition and talent retention strategies.  At the same time, this partnership leads to increased capacity to deliver programs as well as higher awareness for Science Buddies.  As reported by  Ano Lobb, another example of an innovative private-public partnership model was launched by GlaxoSmithKline around malaria.  However, not all partnerships between companies and nonprofits make sense.  See for example Amelia Timbers report on the partnership between KFC and  Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

As an aspiring CSR professional, an essential skill set to leverage is the ability to build and sustain mutually beneficial strategic partnerships with nonprofits that have missions that align with your company's core business.  To do so, you need to understand how nonprofits operate.  What are their priorities?  How are they managed?  What programs and services do they deliver?  What do they need to support their mission and maximize their local or global impact?  The more you know about how nonprofits operate, the better you will be able to formulate possible win-win partnerships when time comes for you to approach a nonprofit with a proposal.  One of the best ways to learn more about nonprofit management without working for a nonprofit is to serve on a nonprofit board.

But what does a board member do?  Well it depends on the nonprofit.  Although many board members are involved in fundraising, board members also serve in various capacities such as determining the organization's programs and services, designing policies and procedures, monitoring the organization's operations and finances, or serving as a public figure for the organization.  Board meeting frequency varies from once a year to once a month (committee meetings are run separately and their frequency varies from organization to organization).

Sounds pretty simple?  It can be, but surprisingly, few young professionals are serving on nonprofit boards.  Indeed, the 2007 BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Index showed that 2% of board members were under 30 years old, and 36% were 30-49.  This means that 62% of board members are over 50 years old.  As a young professional, that is actually not a bad thing.  Indeed, being able to exchange ideas and participate in debates with older board members can tremendously helpful in learning more about how to present (and defend) your ideas with more senior constituents.  Another advantage of serving on a nonprofit board is that a majority of board members (54%) work in the private sector, while another 20% are retired professionals.  Serving on a nonprofit board might enable you to meet various responsible business professionals that you would not get to meet otherwise.  These new contacts might tremendously help you learn about trends as well as opportunities.  These career management insights might lead to you lend your first CSR job faster.

So what can you do now if you are convinced that serving on a nonprofit board is something you want to try?
  • First, choose a nonprofit that does something you care about - To find nonprofits near you, idealist.org is a good place to start - their organization directory includes over 82,000 nonprofit organizations worldwide.  One suggestion:  target smaller nonprofits first, as they are more likely to welcome new board members.
  • Second, talk to people you know about your interest to serve on a nonprofit board, and what issues are dear to your heard (use the names of the organizations you found in step 1 as examples).  These conversations are sure to lead to someone who knows someone who is looking to recruit new board members..
  • Third, meet with a board member from the organization, ask questions about the organization and the board: what is their strategic plan, who else is on the board, what kind of skills or traits they are looking for in a new board member, what time commitment is expected from board members, etc.  If  after gathering more information you feel you can make an impact (and that you can make the time and energy investment needed), then go for it!

If you are a student, I would encourage you to go beyond campus, and to serve on a board in the community where your university is located.  Taking a leadership role in a nonprofit beyond campus is sure to make you stand out from the hundreds of students who take leadership roles on campus.

Finally, for more information to learn more about serving on a nonprofit board, see the resources on boardsource.org, as well as on idealist.org and suite101 (under non-profit governance).

Do you have any additional insights or stories about serving on a nonprofit board as a career management strategy?  I look forward to reading your comments and insights!

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