Friday, September 24, 2010

Small Business Owners & Non-Profit Board Participation

This may seem a little unrelated to small business finance and management, but bear with me. A few years ago a couple of people recommended that I step up my involvement in non-profits via board participation. I wasn't ready. I had too much going on and too little time to dedicate. I wanted whatever time I did spend volunteering to help the recipients directly. So I tutored, mentored, and occasionally spoke at churches and non-profit conferences. This past year I finally had the time...and the inclination.

Why did this people recommend participating on boards to me and why do I recommend it to you as a small or medium-sized business owner? First, I believe it's important to give back to the communities in which you and your company(ies) operate. Giving back helps to balance the overall mission of a company and deepens the company's commitment to engaging with its customers and employees. Second, board participation affords the opportunity to interact with high career (other owners, VPs, SVPs, executive directors, C-suite level) individuals who have backgrounds and perspectives different from your own. This difference in perspective can help you view your company's issues in a different light and that alone can be very valuable. Third, assuming the board has good synergy, you build a sense of team and strengthen your network. That network can assist you as you grow the business organically, offer new products or services, or seek out acquisitions. You never know who may be able to make an introduction into an account you'd like to have or connect you to a prospective partner.

Finally, non-profit board participation can help you grow as a leader. As an owner and typically, the CEO and/or president, especially if you are the sole owner, you may not be as adept at working as part of a team of peers as you used to be. Participating on a board will enhance your team skills. It will also increase your knowledge of a number of functions: marketing, finance, legal, employee relations, etc. that are directly relevant to running your business.

If you decide you would like to sit on a non-profit board, seek out those that address causes you have a passion for or provide the types of services you're really interested in. If you love sports, you would be bored sitting on a homeless shelter board but participating on a pop warner or little league board would be a good fit. Be aware that most, if not all, non-profits have a minimum donation requirement for directors. Sometimes that's $500 or $1,000 for smaller non-profits. For large non-profits like hospital boards or the United Way, the miminum ndonation requirement may be $25,000 or higher. (This is why you often see VPs of large corporations as the primary members of these boards.)

If you are not sure where to start since there are literally thousands of non-profits in any large metropolitan area, start with United Way. They provide funding to tens of thousands of non-profits nationwide. They will have a list of non-profits in your area that fit your criteria.

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