November 14, 2013; The Guardian

UK Minister for Civil Society Nick Hurd used the occasion of the country’s “Trustees Week” to issue a call for more businesses to encourage their employees to join the ranks of nonprofit board members. Noting that there already are a million volunteer leaders in the UK, he cited a significant number of vacant board seats in the charity sector. This challenge is also prevalent among US nonprofits—and no doubt in other parts of the world, too. And as anyone who has served on a nonprofit board knows, even when there is a full complement of board members, there is always a need to consider who will come next, and how the board will renew itself over time.

Hurd notes how much expertise businesspeople have to offer to nonprofits. Importantly, he also makes the case for how business professionals—and their employers—benefit from board experience. Research done by the City of London demonstrated increased skills among volunteer leaders in categories including team building, negotiating, problem solving, and financial knowledge.

Boards require collaboration, and “leadership moments” may present themselves to charity trustees at earlier stages in their careers than they might in the corporate setting, allowing business professionals to gain confidence and try out new skills in a different environment. And there are, of course, often business benefits to be gained from networking with other board members.

The article references research by Deloitte, a leader in the skills-based volunteer movement, that among socially engaged employers, 87 percent of employees had an improved perception of their company and greater loyalty. So encouraging employees to get involved—and valuing the contributions they make in the community—turns out to be a form of enlightened self-interest for the business sector.

Hurd makes the point that potential trustees should look for opportunities to align board service “with a social issue they care about,” and there’s much to be said for how important it is to find the right nonprofit board. A good board member will have a passion for the work of the organization—whether it should be in social service, arts and culture, education, international relief or any other subsector of the nonprofit world. So a good prospective board member will do his or her due diligence, get to know an organization before joining the board, and make a concentrated effort to learn what’s expected and what good governance practices are.

As Hurd says, the people who serve as board trustees “ought to be commended every day and they need more to join their ranks.”—Eileen Cunniffe