As Cause Strategy Partners celebrates 1,000 BoardLead participants elected to nonprofit board positions, Rob Acton, Founder and Principal of Cause Strategy Partners, responds to questions that look back at the firm’s growth, and also looks toward a greater future for the nonprofit sector, galvanized by an injection of motivated leaders.
What do you think are a few of the primary propellers to reach 1,000 BoardLeaders elected?
When we launched BoardLead in 2015, I never could have imagined that in six years we would have expanded to 20 U.S. cities and London, placing more than 1,000 professionals on 500 boards. We have accomplished this rapid scale thanks to the incredible Cause Strategy Partners team. We have enjoyed very low turnover rates of our Causies (our name for those who work at our organization) which has provided for continuity of relationships, refined processes, and deepening expertise. The second propeller is the technology that we built from scratch to run BoardLead. We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in boardlead.com which handles a great deal of the “stuff” of program management. The BoardLead technology allows our incredibly capable humans – also known as our program team — to utilize their considerable skills where human capital matters most: building trusted relationships, making well-informed matches, offering exceptional governance training, and providing robust one-on-one support at every step of the process. The third propeller would be our corporate partners. We work with visionary business leaders who value the partnership and always want to expand and grow. Most of the time we are trying to keep up with them!
Looking past 1,000 BoardLeaders, What other milestones are you looking to and places of impact you want to see Cause Strategy Partners reach?
It is critical that the impact our BoardLeaders bring to their nonprofit organizations remains the primary focus of our growth. We are so proud of their enormous contributions! Honestly, I stand in awe of what they are accomplishing through their fully engaged board leadership. Going deep is far more important to me than going big. As we grow, we will continue to do so organically, identifying those markets where corporate professionals stand ready, willing and able to serve and nonprofits express a need for assistance in building their board pipeline. We will also continue to focus on better meeting the diversity and inclusion needs of our nonprofit partner boards. We believe we are uniquely positioned to move the dial on one of the most pressing challenges in nonprofit governance: making sure that governing boards reflect, understand and make effective decisions for the communities we are privileged to serve.
You often say that the most important word in our name – Cause Strategy Partners – is “Partners.” How have our partners played a critical role in this board service movement?
We would be a shell of an organization without our 500 nonprofit partners, 40 corporate partners, 10 foundation partners and 15 strategic partners. Because of these committed organizations and their teams, we are able to accomplish some pretty great things. Their role is critical to every aspect of our work.
We’ve seen first hand that exceptional BoardLeaders set a new standard for nonprofit governance. What do you think it is about BoardLead that sets and inspires the high bar?
We set high expectations for any board candidate we work with – right at the outset — by asking them to commit to The BoardLeader Way, our definition of full board engagement. We then train around those expectations so they can start strong and drive impact from their first day serving on their board. And, of course, there is a sense of accountability in place as we measure their impact after both one and two years of service. Even so, I find our BoardLeaders to be intrinsically motivated. High-capacity professionals don’t need to be pushed and prodded – they sign up to serve, fully committed to do the job right and drive as much impact as they possibly can.
If you were to write a book and every year of Cause Strategy Partners were a chapter title, what would 2020, 2021, and 2022 be called?
I love this question!
- 2020: The Year We Proved our Mettle
- 2021: Building New Models for Sustaining Impact and Success
- 2022: Elevating and Transforming Governance in the Social Good Sector
What are your thoughts on the future of the nonprofit sector?
Coming out of 2020, many nonprofit organizations – including those of us who lead and staff them – will experience an organizational form of PTSD. We run the risk of reliving these terrible crises, getting stuck by the trauma that 2020 and January 2021 caused us as individuals and organizations. Without careful attention, this could lead us to become too cautious, avoid tackling challenges, refuse to take risks, or find ourselves stymied by a negative outlook. We can’t lose our determination and hope –the two most precious currencies of the social good sector.
Appropriately, nonprofits are more focused on diversity, equity and inclusion than ever before. Organizations that are not proactively on a sustained DEI journey – both internally and externally, touching every part of the organization – are going to be left behind by funders, employees, volunteers and communities alike.
When we can gather again safely, we will. A nonprofit version of the “Roaring Twenties” will bring forth a volunteer and donor pool like we have never seen before: people eager to find their purpose and engage in their communities, putting their resources, time and talents to good use on a cause at the center of their passion. Nonprofit organizations should be building their capacity today to capture the flood of resources that are soon coming.
Robert Acton, Principal and Founder
Cause Strategy Partners
Robert Acton, JD is Principal and Founder of Cause Strategy Partners, a firm that provides strategic counsel and high-impact programming to foundations, companies and social good organizations with a specialized focus on building both board and executive leadership.