Have you played a round of my favorite social sector games? “Let’s collect a representative from every major corporation in town to sit on our board!” The game can be played yearly, quarterly, or monthly and you cause wins once you require a team of governance consultants to work for a year sorting out the mess that has been created. Once the experts wrap-up their engagement they have enough material to write a book just about your enterprise.
I am not a fan of filling the board with individuals who primary attribute is their link to a major corporation. Harvard professor and governance expert Richard Chait suggests that you should love your board members for something other than their money first, otherwise you may as well call them an ATM. If your Nomination Committee leads with the question, “who do we know at the Nameless Corporation,” alarm bells should sound. You may as well start advertising for a new school bus driver by suggesting anyone who owns a green safety vest is qualified.
Here is the flaw in the formula. Corporations are geared towards granting funds to organizations that provide a social benefit and whose message can be directly incorporated into the company’s marketing strategy. The company’s communication experts have a significant say in how most corporate foundations award their grants. These organizations create philanthropic budgets to distribute their funds. The practice of awarding a board seat to the ‘Namless Corporation’ in return for an annual contribution is purely transactional. You train a business to act based on their needs and not take into consideration the cause’s needs. The corporation rarely asks your enterprise which attributes and talents are most needed on the board, they select an individual from their ranks that will serve as their proxy and oversee the impact of their contribution. That said, the financial commitment from the company is usually capped and there is little chance of developing a relationship with an individual where your cause can understand the motivations and emotional drivers that lead to philanthropic investment.
People give to other people. Individuals develop emotional connections. They can take a journey with a cause that allows them to form their own experiences and points of confluence. Corporations may represent a critical source of funding but they cannot replace the human dynamic. There are many amazing individuals with highly desired talents that serve the socials sector extremely effectively and some happen to work for prominent corporations. If you love your board members for their individual purpose and talents first and foremost, you may just find they have many hidden treasures to offer.
Good luck on your search.