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The Six "Whys" of Cause Strategy Partners

Founder and CEO, Rob Acton reflects on the core purpose and evolution of the firm's "why" as we achieve and bypass significant milestones.
byRob ActononFebruary 1, 2023

At the end of this month, Cause Strategy Partners will celebrate its 8th Anniversary. It's an important day as our team of Causies gathers annually to reflect on our past, celebrate how far we’ve come, and leverage the day as an excuse to have fun together. In the lead up to our anniversary, we surpassed a milestone that is core to our mission and to how we measure the success of our programs. Since 2015, we have elected over 2,000 BoardLeaders to more than 1,000 nonprofit boards. I'm so proud of our team and the host of clients and partners who have worked together to achieve this milestone.

At the culmination of this achievement for Cause Strategy Partners, I wanted to offer a personal reflection on the “why” behind our work. We are, after all, a “why” company. Purpose is at the center of our work and permeates every value, action, and decision – it is in our DNA.

As we have evolved and grown as a company, so too have our reasons for existing. We have left none of our core purposes behind, but we have added to them as we scaled our work in these first eight years.

The Six "Whys" of Cause Strategy Partners

1. To Challenge Apathy and Disengagement

My primary motivation when founding the company was to challenge apathy and disengagement. I’d served on numerous boards prior to launching this work. Of the more than 150 board members I’d served alongside over the years, some were stellar, many were absent, disengaged, or harmful, and the vast majority could be described as mediocre contributors.

Equally frustrating, I was finding that most professionals I would meet in social or business settings were not serving any cause, in any capacity, at all. Despite their exceptional professional experience, wisdom learned from life, well-honed skills, ability to make financial contributions, and robust network to draw on for support, the vast majority of these professionals had simply not made service a part of their personal or professional journey.

My goals were straightforward at the time: connect professionals to their cause at scale and, once on board, make sure they are doing the job right.

Today we have helped more than 2,000 BoardLeaders find their cause. These BoardLeaders are serving over 1,000 nonprofits across the United States and in London. Each one has committed to full-engagement as described in The BoardLeader Way, and our evaluation data tells us that they are following through.

2. To Make Board Development More Strategic

Imagine a talented 35 year old professional who stands ready, willing and able to serve their cause as a board member. Without BoardLead or another board matching program, how is that professional likely to find a board seat? The answer, I was finding, was this: wait to be tapped on the shoulder by a friend asking, “Would you be interested in joining my board?” That’s not strategic board development; that’s happenstance.

Too many times I’ve heard a Governance Committee Chair ask in a board meeting, “Does anyone know anyone that might be interested in serving on our board?” That is exactly how not to build a board, and is sure to lead to insular and homogenous board leadership.

By breaking down the wall that stands between candidates and social good organizations, our nonprofit partners are meeting values-aligned professionals from terrific companies with great skills who begin their board journey committed to full board engagement, are trained in governance, and will be fully supported by our team.

3. To Shift Power Dynamics in the Direction of Nonprofits

In traditional board development, a governance committee solicits potential board member names, decides on who to approach, and then begins the process of assessing the interests of those on the short list. The organization chooses and then woos the candidate.

Through BoardLead, our board candidates select their top-choice nonprofit. We make the introduction, offer training, and then set our candidates loose to make the case for how they will advance the mission. The candidate chooses and then woos the organization.

That simple shift in the power dynamics of the board development process has turned BoardLead into a trusted partner as nonprofit organizations come back to us year after year to meet more candidates who are interested in their cause. Incredibly, fully 41% of our BoardLeaders are elected or appointed to a leadership role on their board within the first year of service. Mission passion is central to our work.

4. To Make Nonprofit Board Service More Accessible to Historically Underrepresented Groups

Not many years ago, nonprofit board service was largely reserved exclusively for society’s well-heeled, well-placed elite. In some instances, we still see that misguided board development strategy show up today. It’s outdated. It’s ineffective. It can also be dangerous.

In the corporate realm, nonprofit board service opportunities have traditionally been reserved for the c-suite. It is no secret, of course, that the c-suite has historically been occupied by leaders who are older, whiter and more likely to be male than the company’s rank and file.

Through BoardLead, our corporate partners are now able to reach much further into the organizational chart and get their people elected to community leadership positions at scale. We break down walls that separate talented 30 and 40 somethings from serving their cause – an age group that is our sweet spot. We have also been able to address one of the most pervasive nonprofit board development challenges across the country: building nonprofit boards that are racially and ethnically diverse. I am so proud to say that through focused, organization-wide effort, 55% of our elected BoardLeaders identify as people of color; the national average is 22%.

5. To Be a Leader in the Movement to Make Business a Force for Good

We aspire to model what responsible business looks like. Our B-Corps Certification speaks to the purposeful structure of our organization and the social impact outcomes we are achieving. We have been named as a global Top Impact Company by Real Leaders three years in a row. Over the last eight years, Cause Strategy Partners has donated more than $240,000 to community causes. Our team members serve on governing and ancillary boards representing an array of cause areas. Our BoardLeaders generate a whopping average annual $21.5 million for the organizations they serve. The concept of “purpose over profit” will always guide our work.

6. To Elevate and Transform Governance in the Social Good Sector

Today, Cause Strategy Partners seeks to do much more than challenge apathy and disengagement. We seek to set a new standard of what nonprofit board service must look like. We believe there should be no difference between how professionals serve corporate boards and how they serve nonprofit boards. Is the maximization of profits more important than the life-enabling work that nonprofits provide to communities, day in and day out? Of course not. As we place thousands – and one day tens of thousands – of fully committed, fully engaged board members on nonprofit boards, we believe that the collective impact of our BoardLeaders’ service will redefine the very definition of what it means to act as a fiduciary of a nonprofit. There must be no room for disengagement, absence or mediocrity in leading social good organizations. Our communities, our kids, our seniors, our impoverished, our sick, our students, our displaced, our environment – they all deserve the very best of what each one of us can bring to our cause.

Thank you for joining us on this journey.

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