Companies Work with Employees to Fill Vacant Nonprofit Board Seats

By Katherine Abib
Program Assistant
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

How many board seats do you think currently sit empty at nonprofit organizations across the country? Bob Wittig, co-author of Nonprofit Board Service for the Genius and Executive Director of the Jovid Foundation, recently posed this question to the group of nearly 30 members of WRAG’s Corporate Philanthropy Affinity Group.

Over lunch, these community-minded companies explored trends and best practices in board leadership training and matching programs. Encouraging and supporting employees to serve on nonprofit boards can reap powerful benefits for companies in terms of reputation and employee recruitment and retention, as well as for the employees who serve, and to the nonprofits who benefit from these employees’ expertise and business acumen.

Wittig warned, however, that board placement must be a two-way street. Prospective board members must be passionate about the cause and have a clear understanding of the role, responsibilities, and commitment (both time and financial) that the position requires. At the same time, nonprofits must ensure that the skills, experiences, and knowledge that a prospective board member brings to the role matches well with the needs of the organization and the community it serves.

Graham McLaughlin, Managing Director of Community Impact at The Advisory Board Company, and Tamara Gifford, Vice President and Community Relations Manager at Bank of America, offered the group tips on how their board leadership programs ensure that the board experience is a good one for both their employees and the nonprofits their employees serve. McLaughlin explained that an essential first step is to ensure that employees engage in self-reflection to determine what type of engagement is important for them. Employees are asked to complete a questionnaire asking, for example, if they have a geographic preference for their service, what types of nonprofits and issue areas are of interest to them, and what, if any, concerns they have regarding a time and financial commitment.

Both McLaughlin and Gifford stressed the importance of board leadership training, including providing an overview of the roles and responsibilities of board members, how to assess the financial health of a nonprofit organization – an essential legal role of board members! – and what board members should expect from the nonprofit organizations they serve. Gifford explained that Bank of America places value on board leadership experiences that provide their employees with opportunities to grow personally and professionally. If employees understand the roles and responsibilities that come with serving on a board and they feel good about the commitment and contribution that they can make to the nonprofit, then it will likely result in a positive and fulfilling experience that will ultimately have a positive impact on the company and the community.

So how many vacant board seats are there at nonprofits across the country? You may be surprised to learn, as this group was, that there are nearly 2 million! This statistic highlights the growing importance of board leadership programs at many organizations. Companies that can step in and work with employees to fill these vacant board seats set the stage for more effective community engagement, a positive outcome for everyone.

Note: There is a Board Match event in DC on Thursday evening, May 11th . This event provides an opportunity for nonprofits to connect with prospective board members. The deadline for nonprofit registration is March 8th. For more information, click here.

WRAG’s Corporate Philanthropy Affinity Group meets next on June 14th. For event details and registration, please click here.

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