Use Non-Profit Board Service As A Leadership Development Tool

Jun 12, 2015 1 Min Read


‘A Win-Win Situation’

Business leaders don’t often view non-profit board service as business critical. It is conventional that most see this type of service more as a civic duty to be charitable and serve the communities in which they operate.

However, in my own experience I have realised that non-profit board service is a major opportunity for talent development in the business world.

It can become a business critical tool to develop employees into both community and business leaders. This can be the ultimate win-win situation for everyone involved.

Here are a few reasons why.

Allows for exposure to strategic decision-making

Decision-making is an essential skill that leaders must have. In business, we often specialise our organisations and focus on resource allocation. Thus, the decision-making scope of any individual is often deep but rather narrow.

In contrast, non-profit boards usually lack the same resourcing and infrastructure and thus rely on board members to make broader and strategic decisions, which may be reserved for a senior management team in the corporate environment.

This is a great way to promote exposure to these activities, which will foster employee growth and better equip them to apply these skills to their day job.

Real world practice with collaboration and consensus building

To be successful in business (especially in today’s globalised market), it is essential to collaborate cross functionally as well as culturally.

Businesses are becoming more and more complex, globally diverse and collaborative.

This often poses challenges for up-and-coming talent who are not used to having to adjust their style and approach to fit their audience.

It also poses a challenge for more senior leaders that may rely on more of a command and control structure in the past.

Non-profit boards are typically made up of individuals from different organisations, functional expertise and industries.

They are very diverse and require consensus. In order to succeed in this sort of environment, you must develop key skillsets such as listening, empathy, and collaboration.

These are all skills that are key differentiators as one moves up the corporate ladder and there is no better practice field than a non-profit board.

Drives the employee to connect his/her actions to the overall mission

Does Starbucks sell coffee or an experience? Does AT&T sell phone service or a way for families to stay connected?
In business, often our goals are tied to things such as market share, user growth, revenue and profits, and it is easy to forget about the core purpose of the business.

In non-profit board service, the core purpose is central to everything and by being on a non-profit board, you develop an appreciation and ability to connect operational activities to the core mission of the organisation.

This ability, when applied to business, allows employees to see purpose in their actions and thus leads to happier and more engaged employees.

The leadership connection

In the future, it is my opinion that there will be an essential need to have more organisations that bridge non-profit needs with corporate expertise.

The combination of the two will make for much stronger organisations on both sides and is currently an untapped opportunity.

One great example of such a programme is one that I personally participated in called The Leadership Connection out of Massachusetts. The programme trains and places corporate leaders with key skillsets into community non-profit board positions in order to create a win-win outcome.

After completing the programme, I feel convinced that corporations need to think differently and utilise non-profit board service as an active tool to develop employees.

My experience with the programme was very valuable and I learnt quite a bit about governance and the inner workings of a non-profit board.

However, what it taught me most was that community service is much more than just donating your time and money.
There is a significant need and opportunity for skill-based service in the community. Board service is a great outlet for that.

And as a bonus, non-profit board service is an extremely effective and engaging avenue where one can hone skillsets and actually selfishly benefit in one’s professional life (and yes, it is okay to be selfish in this case).

Now that is what I call a win-win!

Fabio Malagisi is a senior finance leader with vast experience in talent development. His other interests include business and career coaching and strategy development. Follow and tweet him @fabiomalagisi. For more Career Advice articles, click here.

Reposted with permission on and published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 13 June 2015

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This article is published by the editors of with the consent of the guest author. 

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