B3 CANADA BLOG

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Want Leadership Experience? Serve on a Nonprofit Board

By Josephine Victoria Yam, J.D., LLM.

Serving on a nonprofit board is not only a meaningful way to give back to the community, it is also a powerful way to build valuable leadership experience. This is one of the most compelling reasons why our corporate clients have implemented our B3 Board Matching and Training Programs in their organizations.

While enhancing their Corporate Social Responsibility and Brand strategies, many large corporations and law firms consider our programs as solidly supporting their HR talent strategy to develop their high-potential employees. After all, talent development is a top priority in most leading organizations in Canada. So they view our programs as a strategic way of developing their top talent to drive business growth and gain a competitive advantage.

A board matching and training program takes on a “teach, don’t tell” approach. It is a unique, innovative and enriching “learning-by-doing” program. Here, employees actually make hard decisions, manage risks and resolve conflicts — skills needed in crucial leadership roles — as they serve on nonprofit boards to solve real-world social problems. Our programs become effective leadership development tools to complement the other organizational HR offerings to employees.

Alternatively, the conventional modes of learning — whether through conferences, workshops or online courses — take on a “tell, don’t teach” approach. In these modes, employees learn leadership skills primarily through the cerebral dishing out of leadership concepts, theories and case studies.

Here are three transferable skills that employees develop through board service:

1. Strategic Thinking

Through nonprofit board service, employees work side-by-side with other board directors to determine how the nonprofit is performing relative to its mission, vision, strategy and priorities. Together they develop strategies by assessing what the nonprofit is experiencing, what its desired future is and how to close the gap between these current and future states. Board directors also engage in generative thinking to envision the nonprofit’s long-term sustainability as it stays true to its mission amidst the never-ending sea change of societal demands.

Employees also take more risks because nonprofits become safe environments to test their ideas and practice their skills without the fear of making mistakes. Indeed, the stakes are lower in the nonprofit space as juxtaposed to the stakes in their companies where mistakes can be truly costly — such as negatively affecting their companies’ bottomline and getting poor performance ratings for their mistakes.

2. External Mindset

Nonprofit board service nurtures an external mindset within employees as they are exposed to diverse perspectives beyond the walls of their organizations. It opens their world to different viewpoints which in turn spurs innovative thinking. It broadens their exposure to different personalities, leadership styles, organizational cultures and business models. It gives them an expansive view of how organizations work from a macro perspective.

Employees then bring back a deeper understanding of the world and its needs. Their renewed understanding profoundly informs new ways of thinking about their companies. This new way of thinking creates an innovation culture that helps their companies proactively develop more responsive products and services that address what the world really needs.

3. People Skills

When employees serve on nonprofit boards, they practice their abilities to influence and gain buy-in for their ideas. They learn how to communicate their differing views with more confidence. They grasp the nuances of board dynamics as they build relationships with their fellow board directors. They learn how to promote teamwork and collaboration with others who are outside their usual social networks.

According to Volunteer Canada, individuals develop competencies relating to collaboration, managing meetings, team building and conflict resolution when volunteering on a nonprofit board. Without a doubt, board service is a very effective way for employers to harness the benefits of skills-based volunteering —- such as increasing employee engagement while advancing employees’ prospects for career advancement.

Indeed, through a board matching and training program, a company engages in community building through leadership development. It's a strategic way to harness the power of business to do good by creating positive social impact while developing top talent.

Three Pointers to Remember When Serving on Nonprofit Boards

By Josephine Victoria Yam

Hundreds of thousands of highly-skilled professionals volunteer their time, talents and treasures in nonprofit boards around the country . And rightly so. They want to give back to society. They are passionate about the mission and vision of the nonprofits they serve. They are keen to contribute their strategic expertise to help nonprofits achieve their goals - whether their expertise is law, accounting, IT, human resources, strategic planning, marketing and communications. Through volunteering, they develop a strong sense of personal gratification for doing good.

Yet, when they cross the divide from the for-profit world to serve on nonprofit boards, many of them are taken aback. They realize that they have grossly underestimated how tough it is to run a nonprofit organization.

Read more ...

5 Questions to Ask Before You Join a Nonprofit Board

By Josephine Victoria Yam

Have you ever thought of volunteering as a board member of a nonprofit board? Maybe you now have more time to volunteer over and above lending “extra hands” in a soup kitchen twice a year. Or maybe you now want to share your skills and expertise in an impactful way by joining other like-minded professionals providing governance and leadership to a nonprofit.

And why not? Volunteering to serve on a nonprofit board provides you with so many long-term personal and professional benefits.

For example ...

  • You develop a strong sense of personal gratification when you share your skills on causes you are passionate about
  • You expand your diverse network of connections from different backgrounds and circles
  • You develop strong leadership skills crucial to your career advancement
  • You build on your governance skills and experience to eventually sit on for-profit corporate board
Read more ...

3 Features of High-Performing Nonprofit Boards

By Josephine Victoria Yam

According to Imagine Canada, there are about 170,000 charities and nonprofits in the country, which makes Canada’s nonprofit sector the second largest in the world. This number translates to some 170,000 nonprofit boards providing governance over this $106 billion sector. As in any sector, while many nonprofit boards are high-performing, many are unfortunately lackluster.

David Simms, in his Harvard Business Review article, articulates the following 3 distinct features of high-performing nonprofit boards:

First is Leadership.

The maxim “Everything rises and falls on leadership” rings ever so true in nonprofit boards...

Read more ...

Board Diversity: Why It Really Matters

By Josephine Victoria Yam

As a female lawyer who is Asian and a visible minority, I have always been an active advocate for diversity in the workplace. As I practiced law and held leadership positions in various sectors, I often observed that I was either the only woman, the only Asian or even the only visible minority — whether in a boardroom, a business lunch meeting or a workshop. From where I stood, leadership positions in the private, government and nonprofit sectors were more often held by more males than females, more older people than younger ones, more white people than people of colour.

Interestingly, my observations were more pervasive than I initially imagined.

Canada has the second largest and most robust charitable and nonprofit sector in the world. According to Imagine Canada, 2 million Canadians are employed in the sector and over 13 million Canadian volunteer for the sector. The sector provides about 8.1% of total Canadian GDP, which is more than what the retail sector contributes and almost equal to what the oil and gas and mining sectors contribute. Most nonprofits involve volunteers including those at the board leadership level.

Read more ...

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Meet Our Partners

  • As we celebrate the 150th birthday of Canada with the 150Alliance, we are proud to contribute to a national narrative that weaves inspiring stories of how businesses and nonprofits are working side by side through our B3 Board Matching & Training Programs.

  • Alberta's Promise operates within the Government of Alberta’s Department of Human Services. With over 1,800 business, nonprofit and community partners, they help businesses connect with non-profits across Alberta to make meaningful contributions that benefit children and youth ages 0 to 24.

  • The Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations is a member-based nonprofit organization founded in 2002 in Edmonton, AB. They serve the nonprofit and charitable organizations in the Alberta Capital Region.

  • The Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) is the provincial network for the approximately 55,000 nonprofit organizations across Ontario. As a 7,000-strong provincial network, with a volunteer base of 300 sector leaders, ONN brings the diverse voices of the sector to government, funders and business to create and influence systemic change.

  • For over 62 years, Propellus has been supporting volunteers and volunteerism within the communities of Calgary. It strongly believes that volunteering is essential to creating and sustaining healthy, supportive and connected communities.

  • The Sustainability Network is a national organization that works with environmental nonprofits to make them more effective and efficient. Their mission is to enrich environmental leaders and nonprofit organizations so that they can help us all achieve sustainability.

  • Founded in 1943, Vantage Point delivers learning opportunities focused on governance, leadership, planning and people engagement for new and seasoned sector leaders, board directors and managers, aimed at advancing not-for-profit leadership.

  • Women Get On Board is a leading member-based company that connects, promotes and empowers women to corporate boards. They do this through an engaged community of women and men in Canada committed to advancing gender diversity in the boardroom.

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