LinkedIn's New Board Connect: A Fresh Tack to an Old Problem for Nonprofits

Nonprofits have more than 700 board-related volunteer opportunities at VolunteerMatch this week. Add these roles to the many hundreds of other non-board listings for skilled help in marketing, HR, governance, finance, operations and legal and you will begin to get a picture of the enormous need in the social sector for expert leadership and help.

As Taproot Foundation has reported, the board recruitment problem is not fundamentally just about misaligned needs: some 87% of HR pros and 92% of marketing pros want to serve on a board. It's just that far fewer actually do so.

With demand high on both sides, it's clear there may be some other barriers to involvement cluttering up the board match. Yesterday Meg Garlinghouse, the team leader for LinkedIn for Nonprofits, unveiled a new pilot program, LinkedIn Board Connect, to help solve part of the problem.

LinkedIn Launches Board Connect

Great board members are among the most highly prized assets at any nonprofit, and often the most challenging to find. The idea behind Board Connect is that LinkedIn will release some of its premium tools, the kinds of tools that companies spend lots of money to access, and put them in the hands of nonprofits to reach through their professional networks to find board candidates.

LinkedIn Board Connect includes a package of offers for nonprofits:
  • Free access for nonprofits to LinkedIn's Talent Finder, one of their premium tools for finding top candidates on LinkedIn.
  • Free access to an exclusive educational webcast (it's unclear what specifically this means for organizations that are not focused on education).
  • An invitation to join the Board Connect group at LinkedIn - theoretically, a place to talk with other nonprofits about using this new feature set.
The news that the world's largest professional social network continues to roll out new benefits to help nonprofits engage its more than 175 million members is extraordinarily positive.

It not only affirms LinkedIn's awareness of the critical role that purpose and social good continue to play for working people, it also reinforces that LinkedIn is listening carefully to the needs of its corporate members and job seekers, both of whom stand to benefit from communicating their values more effectively.

The Reverse Match Comes to Life

For those of us who work in technology for social good, LinkedIn Board Connect also represents one more thing: a rich opportunity to see how the "reverse match" concept of volunteer engagement can play out in a community that's already at scale.

The reverse match flips the idea of online volunteer recruitment on its head. In the traditional match model, nonprofits gather together in a marketplace where volunteers pick and choose from opportunities (e.g. VolunteerMatch, Idealist, Volunteer Solutions, etc.)

The reverse match model, by contrast, assembles a market of volunteers together and then gives nonprofits the ability to pick and choose whom to solicit for their needs.

To make the reverse match really work there are two essential ingredients:
  1. A lot of publicly accessible information about a potential volunteer's time, skills and interests -- ie, a deep personal profile.
  2. A climate of trust and authenticity so that attractive prospective volunteers aren't overwhelmed by requests from every nonprofit. Otherwise, even well-intentioned invitations may feel like spam.
LinkedIn is well positioned in both regards. So it's exciting to see how this will play out.