Thursday, September 20, 2012

LinkedIn Launches Board Connect Service

LinkedIn, the social network for professionals of all sectors, has just announced the launch of their new Board Connect service for nonprofit organizations. If you're not already familiar with LinkedIn, it began, basically, as a place to post your online business profile/resume and connect with others in your field to grow your network using a "six degrees of separation" model. Other features and refinements over the years have turned LinkedIn into an essential social network for all professions, including active discussions, groups, job boards, and more.

The new Board Connect uses LinkedIn's "Talent Finder" to help you search for professionals with the skills your organization needs. Likewise, professionals interested in board service can search out organizations that meet their interests. Best of all, the service is free to nonprofits (business use of the Talent Finder can cost $1,000).

So, what could be wrong with all this? Well, in one of those active discussion groups on LinkedIn for Nonprofit Professionals, Michael Wyland (of Sumption & Wyland Consulting) says of the service that "the pitch is off-key and reflects antiquated views of board service." Michael recognizes that the LinkedIn service can be beneficial to the organizations that choose to use it, but, he notes:
"Searching algorithyms can get a nonprofit only so far. ... The 'pitch' in LinkedIn's blog makes no mention of governance, board member obligation, legal exposure, and the duties of board service in an increasingly regulated and scrutinized environment. The days of viewing nonprofit board service as an expression of noblesse oblige and an opportunity to network are fading fast, if not already gone."
Terrie Temkin (of CoreStrategies Consulting) replies, in part, that nonprofits "must still do the hard work to vet potential [board members]." She states that this is true, not just of LinkedIn's new service, but of all board matching programs.

I will agree with Mr. Wyland, and add that the "antiquated view" of board service as noblesse oblige and a social activity not only exists within some board matching programs and the well-intentioned attempts at encouraging board service in corporate circles, but within far too many nonprofits themselves.

When I work with boards, I find there can be a very fine line between those boards where the members are comfortable with each other, share outside interests and relationships, but still manage to accomplish the serious business of governance of the nonprofit corporation, and those boards where their shared social situations and relationships stands in the way of good governance.

Often, the one thing that makes the difference as to which side of that line an organization is on is simply good board training. Nobody has ever gone to these boards and explained what their role is or should be on a legal, fiduciary, and ethical basis. They're not shirking their responsibilities; they've just never been made aware of their full responsibilities.

I will also agree with Ms. Temkin, and add that the process of vetting potential board members is a continuous one. It does not start when a member leaves and a seat opens up, but proceeds according to a plan that includes methods of identifying new recruits, the vetting process, suggestions for other volunteer activities until a board seat is open (non-board members may sit on committees, help with events, etc.), and a process for how the full board votes on and welcomes in new members.

Consultants (such as Mr. Wyland, Ms Temkin, or myself) can help your board with both proper training on roles and responsibilities, and with creating a board development and recruitment plan.

If your organization is interested in LinkedIn's Board Connect, you can learn more about it on the LinkedIn blog here, or go direct to the LinkedIn Nonprofits page here. While you're at LinkedIn, you can join my network through visiting my profile here.

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