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Training in Progress

The Nonprofit Board Training Program at Credit Suisse helps high-level employees – and valued clients – to master the art of nonprofit board service. Why this is a true win-win-situation for all parties.

In 2009, the Credit Suisse Americas Foundation completed a strategic review of its programs. One of the main findings was that although the foundation had succeeded in engaging junior-level employees in hands-on volunteer projects, there was still an opportunity to increase the number of senior-level, client-facing employees who participate in volunteer efforts. At the same time, we became aware of a different (but closely related) issue: Nonprofit organizations desperately need high- quality, high-level human capital. In conducting research on peer organizations, we found that although some companies offered board placement programs, very few provided robust training in how to serve on a nonprofit board. To help our employees overcome that knowledge gap, we launched the Nonprofit Board Training Program.

Engaging Employees

To date we have trained over 900 employees across seven cities in the Americas and have completed over 115 board placements. We have learned some important lessons along the way. We learned that employees' passion for a cause is what inspires them to dedicate their time to board service. We found that through their board service, employees are developing new skills that they can apply to existing or new roles at Credit Suisse. Consider Michele D. Cubic, a managing director who joined the board of SCO Family of Services. "My work on the board and its strategy committee helped me learn to take a more critical view of how a company's strategy develops," Michele says. "This helped propel me to my next leadership role as head of Americas Investor Relations."

Joining a nonprofit board also allows employees to integrate their charitable efforts more completely into their work with clients. Doug Healy, for example, is a managing director who serves on the board of the Eagle Academy Foundation (EAF). "My board service has also allowed me to strengthen connections with some of my senior clients, most of whom are passionate philanthropists," he says.

We also found that employees are using their business skills to steer the long-term strategy of the organizations for which they serve as board members. "At Eagle, I am using the same skills as I do in my day job. I have been able to work in partnership with the staff to bring more structure to Eagle's budgeting and reporting processes," Doug says.

From nonprofits, meanwhile, we have heard about the significant impact that board members from Credit Suisse are making. Take the example of Stephen Dundon, director at Credit Suisse, who serves as president of the board of Rebuilding Together NYC. "Under Stephen's leadership, during a two-year span from 2012 to 2013, Rebuilding Together NYC went from one staff member to eight, from a budget of 360,000 to 2.5 million US dollars, and from fewer than 20 rebuilding projects per year to more than 100 projects," says Kimberly George, executive director of the organization.

Engaging Clients

In conversation with Peter Skoglund, vice chairman of Private Banking North America at Credit Suisse (he also serves on the board of the Credit Suisse Americas Foundation), we discovered that the firm's relationship managers (RMs) and their clients had an interest in the topic of effective nonprofit board governance. Inspired by the success of our employee training program, we extended it to serve our private clients in 2012.

Educating clients on board governance helps them to improve their performance as civic leaders and boosts the financial sustainability of the organizations they support. By offering coaching to current and prospective clients, we solidify our relationships with them.

Our board training workshops also enable our RMs to distinguish themselves as advisors who are committed to the success of nonprofit organizations. More generally, our thought leadership in effective nonprofit board governance bolsters the Credit Suisse brand, reinforcing our reputation as a principled partner both in business and in the community.

In conclusion, we found that by aligning our volunteer programs with employees' skills, we could equip and motivate them to make long-term, high- impact contributions as nonprofit board members. We also learned that by extending this training to clients, we could align our interests more closely with theirs and benefit our business as well. Based on the success of this program in the Americas region, our Corporate Citizenship teams are currently working on rolling out similar programs in their respective regions.

This article was published in the Spring 2015 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review.