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2023 Corporate Trends: How Nonprofit Board Programs are Evolving

Three emerging trends in 2023, along with questions to ask as you develop your company’s nonprofit board service strategy.
byErin PiersononJanuary 12, 2023

At Cause Strategy Partners, we partner with over 40 Fortune 500 companies and professional service firms on executing their nonprofit board service strategy, and connect with dozens more through consulting. This unique perspective offers us a bird’s eye view of how the world’s leading corporations are supporting their employees’ leadership development, engagement and sense of purpose through nonprofit board service.

We’ve seen a gradual evolution - and elevation - in the role that board service plays in employee engagement, from where it sits within the company to how employees build connections and community through these experiences, and even how the program is incorporated into DEI goals.

Here are the three trends that have recently emerged which we expect to grow in 2023, along with questions to ask yourself as you develop and grow your own company’s nonprofit board service strategy.
Trend 1: The case for board service is growing beyond community engagement to incorporate leadership development

Historically, nonprofit board service has been seen as an additional offering within a corporation’s suite of volunteer programs. However, as partnerships across the aisle between CSR and HR/Talent grow, the opportunity is being recognized as a powerful leadership development experience. Board service, unlike role playing or formal training, is recognized as a true experiential leadership development opportunity, offering employees the chance to test out new skills and exercise their leadership in a vastly different environment.

Nonprofit board service has long term positive effects on retention and employee engagement as well. Employees - especially now early-career Gen Z and mid-career millennials - are consistently looking for more purpose-driven activities and stay longer at companies that demonstrate a commitment to social good. In a 2022 study from Deloitte, 34% of Gen Zers and 53% of Millenials who were “highly satisfied” with their company’s social impact stayed longer than five years at their company. As a result, purpose and engagement is now often mentioned in tandem with philanthropy and community engagement as a value driver for board service

Modeling leadership is important too - many companies have made serving on a nonprofit board mandatory for c-suite and senior executives, whose organizations are often connected to their company’s CSR pillars. Others still have begun to add board service as a performance metric for rising leaders, turning it from a nice-to-have to an expectation for advancement.

Questions to ask:

  • How can you leverage internal partnerships between departments to get the most out of a board service program for your employees?

  • What does nonprofit board leadership look like at the top of your company? How are your executives champions of service?

Trend 2: Board matching and training programs are not just offerings, but create communities within corporations

Offering opportunities to serve on a nonprofit board is becoming less and less of a programmatic and bookended experience, and more about creating an internal culture of nonprofit board service. Employees who serve on boards are not only eager to connect with their peers who also do so, but learn from each other and build skills in the process.

Many of our corporate partners have fostered special interest groups for board service and use technologies like Slack or Wespire to connect these groups and create organic networks. Others offer regular chances to connect and meet up through ongoing skills building, training, and networking opportunities. This common identity - board member - can break through barriers of departments, seniority levels, and geographies, offering a novel way for employees across the company to socialize, connect and grow together.

Question to ask:

  • Beyond structured programs such as board placement and matching gifts, how are you supporting a community of employees who serve on boards?

Trend 3: Employee Resource Groups are an Essential Talent Source

ERGs, much like nonprofit boards, allow employees to support purpose-driven work in a governance structure that is not unlike a nonprofit board. Volunteer leaders here exercise shared power working within complicated systems, and work together to achieve a common goal for a community. While many ERG leaders may be at capacity when advancing the work of that group, board service can be a way to build future leadership competencies for ERG success, or carry lessons to organizations following an employees’ time leading that group.

Many of our corporate partners utilize seniority bands or high-potential tracks to identify talent for nonprofit board matching; yet, an increasing number of our partners look to their ERGs for ways to create opportunities for leaders from underrepresented identity groups at their firms. As a result of this and other efforts made by Cause Strategy Partners, 55% of BoardLeaders now identify as people of color, compared to the national average of 22% (BoardSource, Leading with Intent 2021).

Question to ask:

  • How can nonprofit board service and governance training connect to your company’s DEI and leadership development goals?

These three trends areas are just the tip of the iceberg in what we see as multiple shifts in the ways in which corporations - and nonprofits - think about board recruitment, development, training and support for future leaders. Over the course of this year, we encourage you to follow us on our journey as we explore these trends through impact stories, blogs, resources and more.