Making the Jump From the C-Suite to the Nonprofit Board
Why everyone should serve on a nonprofit board or leadership committee
I was raised on the idea that to whom much is given, much is expected. Currently, I am the CEO of 2-10 Home Buyers Warranty, a Denver-based insurance and consumer services business that operates across the United States. I have been quite fortunate in my career and believe in the importance of giving back to my community in a meaningful way, which is why I serve on the Board of Directors for Boys Hope Girls Hope of Colorado.
Being on a nonprofit board is an excellent way to give back as a C-suite executive. Board leadership is much more than a financial contribution to an organization; it is an opportunity to share your talent and expertise as a business leader to help support and grow an organization with a mission and greater purpose.
Boys Hope Girls Hope of Colorado (BHGH), like any nonprofit, is a business. Though its focus is not to deliver a profit; rather, it delivers service to those in need. BHGH’s mission is to get academically motivated children-in-need through high school and help them ultimately earn their college degree. But even as a mission-driven organization, it has the same issues as any other business such as acquiring talent, maintaining financial stability, delivering a high-quality product or service and managing its beneficiaries and customers (donors). These business challenges are where executive experience and expertise, when applied to a nonprofit board or leadership committee, can be incredibly impactful.
I always encourage fellow executives to consider board leadership as it can be an incredibly rewarding experience. When choosing a nonprofit to support with your expertise, consider the following tips.
Tip No. 1: Do your research
Before committing to a nonprofit, research the organization along with its mission and values. Read the organization’s bylaws, past board meeting minutes, and financial statements. Is the organization in the red? Is there an opportunity to make significant changes or is the organization running on cruise control? Which situation do you prefer as a potential board member? Will you be hands-on with the beneficiaries of the organization and is this aspect important to you?
I ultimately selected BHGH for my board service as I was impressed with what the organization does to help young men and women break the cycle of poverty through education. Unlike many other nonprofits, I can interact directly with our scholars and see firsthand the difference the organization is making in the lives of the kids and families it serves.
Tip No. 2: Identify what you bring to the table
Having a passion for the cause you will serve is important, but it is also critical to identify what professional skills you will bring to the board table to strengthen the organization. In addition to my corporate leadership experience, I earned a business degree in accounting from Santa Clara University and was a CPA for about eight years as I started my professional career. This strong background in finance can be a critical asset for a not-for-profit organization.
Tip No. 3: Do a trial run
Before you commit to join the board, get further involved with other aspects of the organization that you may not have already been involved with. For example, if you’ve only volunteered on the program services side, sit on a development or fundraising committee so you understand the money-raising side in addition to the service-providing side of the organization. Take note of the culture of the organization and spend time talking with other board members and the organization’s leadership team. As a board member, you are essentially joining a business, so you want to be sure your values align, and the culture is a good fit.
Tip No. 4: Find an organization that touches your heart
As you search for a nonprofit to serve, look for one where you can connect with the program and those you are serving on a deeper level. BHGH, as an organization, touches my heart and makes my service feel incredibly deep and meaningful.
When I joined the BHGH board in 2011, we were serving about a dozen scholars. Today we are serving more than 100 scholars. It took a good strategic review of the organization, an assessment of our strengths and capabilities, as well as our challenges, to determine how best to move forward and adapt to meet changing needs in the community.
In my corporate job, we face this challenge every day and are constantly adapting to a changing marketplace and finding ways to maintain and improve our product and ultimately grow the business. I’ve really enjoyed my experience sharing this corporate expertise with a nonprofit organization that I believe in. Being part of BHGH has made me a better citizen of Denver and helps me to understand the bigger picture.
It is easy to be very focused on “your business” and the day-to-day life of corporate leadership. Board service opens my eyes to other issues and struggles that are much bigger than my own and provides the opportunity for personal growth not often found in the C-suite.
Scott Cromie is the chairman and CEO of 2-10 Home-Buyers Warranty which is headquartered in Aurora, CO. He also serves on the board of the Boys Hope Girls Hope of Colorado.