Last week I graduated from the Governing for Nonprofit Excellence (GNE) program at Harvard Business School. It was a privilege to represent CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse), the nonprofit organization where I sit on the board. I was 1 of 50 global business leaders and nonprofit board members who came to elevate skills in nonprofit governance and discover innovative ways to help our organizations thrive. What an opportunity!
We learned through the traditional HBS approach – studying, analizing, debating 6 case studies of other nonprofit organizations who faced some of the most pressing and complex business issues of today. It was rich learning that provided frameworks and strategic insights that we, as trustees, can now share with the organizations we are all so passionate in serving.
This unique experience brought front and center, a few important truths that we often forget in the grind of our daily work:
- Continuous learning is so valuable yet requires both humility and bravery to get the most from the process. You don’t have all the answers and being bold enough to ask the questions, while sometimes uncomfortable, advances the greater good.
- People are genuinely good and have found it possible to create economic AND social value in this world. With passion and personal commitment in serving their communities, smart & successful leaders are tackling some of the greatest needs that exist today.
- As individuals and organizations, we are more similar than we are different. Nonprofit organizations across the globe face many of the same challenges, as each other and as the for-profit world. There is incredible power in collaboration…not one of us is alone in this journey.
Another amazing part of this program was an evening spent with 1st year Harvard MBA students who are considering the study of Social Enterprise. Let me tell you, this is our future! Many of these students completed their internships or left the post-collegiate working world because they wanted to have a hand in solving complex social problems and make a meaningful difference in this world.
“I will give back when I am further along in my career and have more time.”
They aren’t like many of us…telling themselves that giving back is something they will do when they have more time or are further along in their career. They aren’t checking the “nonprofit” box as something great to add to their resume. SEI (Social Enterprise Initiative) is the largest student club on Harvard’s campus and this gives me hope!
One of the most rewarding experiences in my career has been my nonprofit board service. I couldn’t have anticipated the personal and professional fulfillment I would get in serving. I just wish I started sooner.
If you are considering giving back on an individual level through service on a nonprofit board, consider this advice:
- Find passion in the mission. Start with something you care about, read up on the issue, ask how you can fit in as your authentic self to make the biggest impact. Find the right cause and the world opens up – personally and professionally.
- Your unique talents are needed. Diversity in skill, experience and thought is critical for nonprofits today who must continue to transform. You can advance the mission in your leadership, business perspective, commitment and heart.
- Be prepared to grow. You aren’t working on your own agenda, rather that of whom your organization directly serves. This focus on social mission teaches you selflessness and patience and helps to reinforce your values. It softens your edges.
There’s no doubt that every dollar matters. What can matter even more is the impact a smart, passionate leader can have contributing their unique talents on the board of a nonprofit organization.
If you have an interest in learning more about this #HBSGNE program or just how to get connected to take the first step, I would be happy to help!