Business on Boards

Here you can find out how your business can contribute more to your community by helping to build better boards.

Volunteering is one of the most well-known, widespread and popular ways that businesses have found to form relationships with their communities. Volunteerism is relatively easy to organise and has some obvious benefits for both parties. But as many community groups are discovering, some forms of volunteerism are more useful than others.

One of the most meaningful and innovative ways your business can engage with your community is by encouraging your staff to join a community group board or committee of management.

Every community group has a governance structure of some sort – and most of these are in desperate need of new members. Small community groups in particular are finding it increasingly difficult to attract and retain members to revitalise their boards, add new skills and ensure they meet the demands for greater efficiency and accountability.

Businesses have a huge amount to offer in helping these groups to meet their obligations and strengthen their governance structures. Indeed, Our Community believes that every community group board or committee of management should strive to fill a third of its seats with members from the local business community (while ensuring they continue to retain control of their own destinies by drawing the remaining two-thirds of board members from traditional stakeholder communities).

Volunteering for a board or committee of management can be harder than other forms of volunteerism and requires much more than just a token contribution; but it can a have real, long-lasting impact on the long-term health and future of a community group.

What your business has to offer

Your staff members can bring to a community group board or committee of management:

  • New and highly valuable skills (IT, legal, marketing, financial management, strategic planning, etc.)
  • New perspectives
  • Expanded networks
  • Increased influence
  • Knowledge of business disciplines

What your business stands to gain

Your business stands to benefit in a range of ways, including:

  • Better standing within the community, derived from your visible demonstration of community values and involvement
  • A better understanding of the community in which you operate
  • Strengthened connections with the community, leading to an increase in influence and profile
  • Happier staff, leading to staff satisfaction, retention and easier recruitment
  • An expansion of knowledge, skills and contacts

In addition, your staff members will gain a range of benefits that may be of enormous use in their current and future work and social lives, including:

  • New and deepened skills (e.g. fundraising, advocacy, etc.)
  • Governance experience
  • Knowledge of the not-for-profit sector
  • Deeper knowledge of the area in which the community organisation is operating (e.g. the arts, sport, etc.)
  • Personal satisfaction and a feeling of "making a difference"
  • The opportunity to exercise power and contribute to the success of a community organisation
  • Networking opportunities
  • New friendships
  • Opportunity to contribute work skills to a different arena
  • Growth in self-confidence

What do we do now?

Step one: Find a group

Encourage your staff to find out what community groups might be in need of their skills. There are a range of places they can search:

  • Think inside the square. Your company's contribution will have more meaning and will be easier to sustain if staff become involved in causes that matter most to them. Ask staff to think about the community groups they or their family or friends are already in contact with. These could be the local tree planting group, their child's kindergarten , their sister's drama group, etc. Ask staff to ask themselves, "If I could change three things about my community, what would they be?" Look for groups working to bring about the changes.
  • Use the Board Matching Service. This free online service allows community groups to list board vacancies. You can search by community segment, state and territory and local government area to find a board that wants what you have. The Board Matching Service is available online here.
  • Scan the horizon. Look in your local newspaper for stories about community groups doing great things or ask your local council for a community directory. Search Our Community's Directory of Non-Profit and Community Organisations here.

Step two: Do it properly

Remember that joining a board or committee of management requires a long-term commitment. Signing up and then not following through – not attending meetings or turning up to meetings unprepared, for example – will do no good at all for a community group; in fact, it is likely to harm it.

It is also vitally important that your staff members do not see your "Business on Board" project as an opportunity for you to gain community kudos by adding to their workload.

You can demonstrate your company's commitment to the project, and help staff follow through on theirs, by providing real support for their community group governance role. This might come in the form of:

  • Time: You can provide time off for your staff (say, five days a year) in compensation for time spent fulfilling their board role. You can also help ensure their board role does not become a burden by allowing staff to use work time to fulfill the requirements of their board role.
  • Flexibility: You can make your staff member's board role much easier by providing some flexibility in their work role. For example, you could allow them to leave early or start late on board meeting days. Invite staff to tell you how you can make it easier for them to juggle their work and voluntary roles.
  • Support: Educated, prepared people make for the best board members. You can help your staff members get "board ready" by referring them to our free help sheets and other content in the Tools & Resources area. If you are supporting several staff members to get on board, you might even consider providing or paying for them to attend some governance training.
  • Resources: Allow your staff to use company equipment to support their board role; for example, authorise use of email to receive board papers, and the photocopier to copy board documents. Offer the use of your company boardroom or tele-conferencing equipment for meetings. Provide refreshments!