01/15/2014 10:04 pm ET Updated Mar 17, 2014

Companies Seek to Meet the Challenges of Nonprofit Board-Matching

"How do we involve our executives on NGO/nonprofit boards that align with our sustainability and social innovation initiatives when many of them naturally gravitate to boards where their kids are in school or other personal affiliations?" This is a question that companies commonly ask me. "And how do we allocate our philanthropic dollars to encourage and support board service while also focusing our funds more strategically on issues that fit our corporate mission and goals?" they add.

Having trained and placed several hundred business executives and professionals on NGO/nonprofit boards and advised many businesses since the early 1990s, I've had the opportunity to hone my approach to helping companies establish highly effective nonprofit board-matching programs.

Mission and goals: Before anything else, the company will want to establish the mission for its nonprofit board-matching program. Guidance from the C-suite and input from a variety of perspectives across the company are important in aligning the program's purpose with the corporate mission and strategic goals. There are a number of benefits to board-matching, so it can be useful to rank your priorities. Here are a few to consider.
  1. Developing your executives and professionals for leadership through NGO/nonprofit board governance experience that includes fiduciary and oversight responsibility, as well as involvement in strategy, crisis management, accountability, and consensus building.
  2. Developing your executives personally and professionally about vital issues such as healthcare, education, the environment, economic development, and human rights. Deeper knowledge of these issues will make your entire executive team--and hence your company--more effective in its work, regionally and globally.
  3. Deepening relationships between members of your company and key stakeholders in the community, including decision-makers and experts in businesses, government, academia, and NGOs/nonprofits.
  4. Involving your company and its executives more deeply in advancing your company's sustainability and social innovation agenda and/or foundation goals.
Budget: Set aside the philanthropic dollars and determine how you will allocate them in order to support and encourage your executives and professionals who serve on NGO/nonprofit boards. The vast majority of nonprofits will need your company's financial support, in addition to business volunteers from your company who have expertise in a variety of areas, such as public relations, human resources, law, information technology, and so on.
  1. If goals 1-3 above are important, then you'll want to provide some kind of "matching grant"--perhaps with a cap--to all executives and professionals who serve on boards.
  2. If goal 4 above is more important than 1-3, you might give that more weight in making more generous grants to support nonprofits where those executives serve... perhaps making the match two-to-one, or raising the cap.
Training: Prepare your executives and professionals for board service.
  • Provide them with highly effective, interactive training so that they know what to expect and can become productively engaged from the outset. This need not be time-intensive; in fact, it shouldn't be. A bit of training and preparation will ensure a win-win for the board member and the nonprofit and will reflect well on the host company.
Matching: Finally, ensure that people are matched to boards where they will love the experience!
  • Executives who serve on boards will only be effective if they fall in love with the organization and have a great time serving. That means it's essential that each person be matched thoughtfully and purposefully with a board where the mission is personally meaningful and where they can add value. People have many interests; in my experience, they want to explore a variety of options, make their choice based on the challenges and opportunities facing each of the boards and organizations they are considering, and understand exactly how they might be useful.

You will be surprised how many people at your companies are waiting for the opportunity to explore board options and engage. It just has to be done right in order to ensure that everyone benefits, and that the community is the ultimate winner.