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02 Nov. 2017 | Comments (0)

Better World Leaders: The Nonprofit Board Leadership Study, released today, provides an inflection point for businesses that encourage and support their employees in serving on nonprofit boards. Today, we show that nonprofit board service is an effective pathway for companies to advance workplace diversity and inclusion; human capital for innovation; and economic development and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This post focuses on diversity and inclusion. Additional posts will address the other values that are demonstrated by this new study.

Many of us know the power of volunteering in all of its forms: from tutoring and mentoring children, to planting community gardens, refreshing shelters for victims of domestic violence, and more. We also know the power of providing pro bono assistance to nonprofits: in strategic planning, branding, legal services, and more. Many of us have also seen the power of nonprofit board service in transforming the lives of volunteer board members in addition to achieving meaningful missions to improve our communities.

Advancing diversity and inclusion

Based on responses to a lengthy and confidential survey completed by 957 employees at several multinational corporations, in addition to personal and confidential interviews, the study shows that nonprofit board service advances workplace diversity and inclusion. Business people who serve on boards gain an appreciation and understanding of people from backgrounds that are different from their own. Key findings from the study include:

  • 78 percent of respondents indicated that their board experiences affect their appreciation for the perspectives of people from backgrounds that are different from their own.
  • 78 percent expressed a deeper understanding of the challenges facing people who live in different circumstances than their own.
  • 72 percent said they have greater empathy for people from different backgrounds than their own.
  • 73 percent said they have greater interest in people with different backgrounds than their own.

It is not surprising that the board setting promotes mutual understanding when people come together as volunteers around a mission for which they share a passion. Eighty-one of respondents reported that most of their fellow board members have backgrounds different than their own, and 77 percent indicated that the nonprofit serves clients whose backgrounds are different from their own.

Moreover, nonprofit board matching is effective in recruiting and retaining employees, a pressing issue for businesses. The survey asked respondents about companies that introduce employees to boards and support them with financial contributions to their nonprofits. It found:

  • 86 percent of respondents reported that this improves their impression of their employer.
  • 59 percent said that this is a factor in their desire to stay at the company.
  • 40 percent said that this is a factor in their choosing to work at the company.

Additionally, the study shows that companies have a significant reservoir of people from diverse backgrounds who would like to serve on boards, thus providing opportunities for leadership development. Employees who serve on boards develop an average of 6.7 leadership skills, including critical thinking and problem-solving, and creativity and innovation. This benefits companies since research indicates that diversity and inclusion increase profitability.

The Better World Leadership study was conducted with the World Environment Center, and with the sponsorship and participation of American Express, Dow Chemical, HP, Johnson Controls, PIMCO, and Symantec. Datamaran provided big data analysis of corporate reporting trends, which is in the Appendix of the study.

The insights in this new study about employee board service can inform companies seeking new and effective approaches to grow their value. Given the positive reception to board service by employees, it seems that increasing and enhancing board opportunities through company training and matching programs would be a win-win-win for companies, their employees, and communities.

  • About the Author: Alice Korngold

    Alice Korngold

    Alice Korngold advises companies and NGOs on strategy, board governance, sustainability, ESG, and diversity and inclusion. She is the author of  A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solv…

    Full Bio | More from Alice Korngold


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