As a graduate student in NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, I’m passionate about supporting nonprofit capacity. After participating in a pro bono consulting project in China, I’m convinced pro bono work can tear down the capacity barriers affecting nonprofits. Last fall, I joined Taproot Foundation as a Product Development Fellow. I’m responsible for developing improved tools to support Taproot’s pro bono consultants and nonprofit clients.
Looking at board service
Not long after my start at Taproot, I attended the annual Pro Bono Day NYC: Connecting Passion with Purpose and sit in on the Leveraging Pro Bono From a Seat on the Board panel discussion at Google. Convened by Taproot Foundation and led by Rob Acton, Taproot’s NY Executive Director, more than 100 nonprofit leaders and board members participated in a conversation around opportunities to drive impact from a seat on the Board.
Samantha Hennessey, Social Responsibility Program Manager of Google, and Heather Lofkin Wright, Corporate Responsibility Director of PricewaterhouseCoopers, shared with the audience how Google and PwC collaborated with Taproot Foundation in a pilot program to place Next-Gen employees on nonprofit boards, with a specific focus to teach employees how to build an organization’s capacity by leveraging their skills and networks from a seat on the board. Nonprofit leaders also received tips about helping Board members optimize their service by becoming internal drivers of pro bono resources.
Many people associate board service with financial contributions and fundraising engagements. Making a financial contribution to a nonprofit is an important part of a board member’s responsibility. There is also a huge opportunity to add value by leveraging a board member’s professional expertise to support an organization they care about.
How board members can engage
Effective board engagement is often easier said than done. According to BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Index 2012, 75% of nonprofits recruit board members actively, with 30% recruiting for four or more seats. When asked about pro bono service as a key pillar of Board engagement, only 40% of nonprofits stated an ask to board members to contribute pro bono or in-kind support. With the status quo of the “under-capacity” board and staff, how can nonprofits fill in the blank with robust, engaged, and skills-based/pro-bono driven board members? There is an opportunity for nonprofits to fill those empty seats with highly engaged board members by recruiting professionals who are interested in driving pro bono, or utilizing their expertise and professional network to build the organization’s capacity.
Board service is a great way for me, a young professional, to gain first-hand governance and leadership experiences outside of my nine-to-five job. Rob Acton shared 5 KEYS TO DRIVING PRO BONO FROM A BOARD SEAT. I found these extremely helpful to both nonprofits hoping to leverage pro bono resources from board members and young professionals seeking board service opportunities.
Keys to driving pro bono with board service
- Think like the treasurer. Pro Bono Board members should co-own their areas of professional expertise with the assigned staff members, just like every Board Treasurer does.
- Remember your role. Boards advise and govern. Chief executives lead. Staff members execute. Pro Bono Board members add the most value when they advise the chief executive on their area of expertise, then let the chief executive lead.
- Partner with the ED to forecast needs. Pro Bono Board members should develop an infrastructure-building plan with relevant staff working in their areas of expertise. Then, they can help scope pro bono projects to improve that area.
- Make the ask. Board members with the relevant professional network are better positioned than anyone else to source resources for the project. Be bold and ask.
- Instill the Pro Bono Ethic into your organization. Whenever a need surfaces, ask, “Is there another way to do this?”
Board service in and of itself is a powerful way for an individual to contribute to a nonprofit organization. When business professionals deliver their core skill set from a seat on the board they become a particularly valuable asset. So what are you waiting for?