A Door to High Caliber People
January 30, 2007
Case categories include: Ethics Leadership
By Robert Sher
“It’s amazing the caliber of people you can meet when involved in charitable causes.”
--- Rand Morimoto, CEO and advisor to the White House
Surround yourself with people of amazing caliber and you have the chance for amazing results. For many years, this CEO of Convergent Computing, a technology solutions firm, brought top talent onto his team for this very reason. But his involvement with local charitable causes didn’t start with a plan. Chabot Space Center in Oakland called his firm looking for donations, and Rand responded with a $5,000 sponsorship. That led to personal involvement, a second sponsorship, and then to a gift of $50,000.
Within a year, he was asked to serve on the board, and was active in several committees, including development (fundraising) where he and other development volunteers were intensively trained on the fundamentals of the charity as well briefed about key supporters and prospective supporters. He was then directed to mix, mingle, and make friends with those high-caliber supporters. One of them was the founder of PayPal.
Don’t go in blind
Supporting a non-profit is a good thing in and of itself. But for many CEOs, time and money are both precious, and activities that serve multiple goals get the resources. Involvement with a non-profit can help your business and be philanthropic, but it’s best to approach it with a plan.
Donations do speak volumes to any non-profit. But unless you’ve got plenty of money and your intentions are strictly altruistic, start by becoming a member and going to several events. The first fundamental question is, are you emotionally and intellectually interested in the cause? Being aligned with the mission of the organization is critical, and will keep you active when so many other distractions of life try to pull you away. Your passion for the mission will also shine through as you get involved and will make you more effective.
Non-profits are always hungry for volunteers. Sign up! Get to know the people as you work with them and assess the culture of the organization. Do you fit in? Are you having fun working with these people? Be sure to get to know a few board members and the paid staff, too. Try out several different committees – the development team can feel quite different than the programs team.
Decide if you are interested in a board position. Most non-profits need quality board members and are constantly searching for them. In Rand’s case, he offered connections into the technology sector that Chabot would find advantageous. Never be shy about stating your interest in being on the board. Non-profits know that they are a mingling place for high-caliber people, and that their supporters enjoy that mingling.
While many board positions officially require no donation, the truth of it is that a huge function of non-profit boards is to bring in cash. Having too many board members that don’t contribute in the upper tiers sets a bad example for other supporters. Donating between one thousand and five thousand per year is plenty in most cases. That’s chump change compared to the expenses that most companies spend on sales and marketing alone.
The benefits of giving back
Rand serves on the Board at Chabot Space Center, the Board of Regents at St. Mary’s College, and the Board of the Institute of International Education (Fulbright scholarships). His personal passion for education is evident in his choices. But has it helped his business?
Non-profit boards are comprised of two groups – active board members who often run businesses, and very high net worth individuals who are often in “name only” and are not active participants. In Rand’s case, the active board members have had need for his technology services over the years that have more than offset the cash contributions. But Convergent Computing’s bread-and-butter clients are typically large corporations where the CEO isn’t involved in IT decisions. But when the IT decision makers learn that Rand sits on the board with their CEO, a connection is established, and an un-measurable competitive edge is gained.
Speaking of competitive edges, keeping your employees bonded as a team is critical. Rand uses his connection with Chabot Space Center as an involvement tool for all his employees and their families. From company events, fund raising drives and volunteerism in the community, he actively involves them at Chabot, creating situations where families become friends. Quitting a job at Convergent becomes a bigger hurdle, and a family decision.
Stop dreaming about meeting the people you read about in the news. Get involved in a non-profit with a cause you believe in and taste the culture of the organization. If it feels right and looks good, work your way onto the board.
• Many business connections are born in the non-profit arena.
• Pick charities you believe in before getting involved.
• Raise awareness of your charitable work with your employees.
Robert Sher is principal of CEO to CEO, specializing in assisting CEOs and business leaders as they navigate critical passages. He is the author of The Feel of the Deal; How I Built a Business through Acquisitions. He may be reached at Robert@ceotoceo.biz.
Company and Case Facts:
Company: Convergent Computing
Person: Rand Morimoto, Ph.D., CEO
Business Founded: 1986
Annual Sales Volume: $12 million in 2006
Head Count: 65
Service: Helps architects implement and support IT networks
Typical Customer: Medium and large organizations
Written: January, 2007
Address: Convergent Computing, 399 Grand Ave., Oakland, CA 94610