Our Thinking

Profitable non-profits

I recently met with a newly minted senior executive, who got to where he is because of his business acumen, aggressive drive, and great relationship skills. But now that he is in a position of real responsibility, is he missing a critical ingredient for success? Consider: he has no board experience. And his network has only been developed through his professional contacts – he has no community network.

With each new job (and as you rise through the hierarchy), the skills that you will need to succeed will almost certainly change. How will he develop the skills to be considered for his next job?

When many people consider volunteering, what first comes to mind is going door-to-door collecting for a charity, or helping out at a local school. While these are clearly important activities, there is another type of volunteer option that is also important: sitting on a not-for-profit board or committee. The benefits to the organization are obvious: they get to borrow your business acumen to solve their toughest challenges, all at zero financial cost. For you, the return on your time investment is also high:

  • Development of board-level skills.
  • Development of functional skills beyond your regular area of expertise.
  • Development of a network of contacts who have seen you “work”, but not at work.
  • Psychological benefits from “giving back to society”.

With these benefits, how do you determine which organization to approach? Use these criteria:

Impact: Look for organizations where you can make a difference: it will help your motivation, and you can later point to the achievement on your resume.

Network: Look for organizations where you interact with people with different skills, and whose networks are completely different than your own. Over time, you will learn their skills, and their network will become yours.

Passion: What interests you: children or older folks? A cultural/religious group or a civic group? A particular cause or one that is generic? etc. Look for organizations where their is a natural connection with your interests: it is hard to be excited without some connection.

The greatest benefit of your involvement is the difference it will make to your community. Close behind is the value that you have added to yourself. And since you take that with you to your job, you will bring value there too.

This Week’s Action Item: The time commitment for this type of involvement is very small: usually about two evenings per month, plus a bit of time reviewing materials and responding to emails. Look around for an organization that fits the bill, and make the call before the end of the week.