New social enterprise wants to place 30,000 tech leaders on non-profit boards by 2030

Board.Dev wants to revolutionize the non-profit board by adding a crucial new role alongside lawyers and accountants: technology experts.

Why It Matters

Technology experts are increasingly valuable on non-profit boards to help navigate technical challenges.

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Board.Dev aims to match non-profits with technology experts to maximize their impact. US-based non-profit Genesys Works is one of the early participants in the process. (Genesys Works/Supplied)

A new social enterprise aims to shake up the antiquated structure of non-profit boards by matching technology leaders to charities that need technical expertise. 

“Boards were conceived by lawyers and accountants,” said Aaron Hurst. “If we were to start today, we’d definitely have a technologist.”

Hurst, who has a software development and product management background, co-founded Board.Dev, along with former co-worker Alethea Hannemann. Both worked together at the Taproot Foundation.

Board.Dev is currently in a pre-launch phase. For technology experts, it offers sessions about who is an “ideal candidate” for a non-profit board and how board service can impact career development. 

Non-profit leaders are provided sessions on recruiting the right technology leaders to their boards and how they can work well with staff. 

There are four key areas where Hurst said technology experts can best support non-profits: managing security and privacy risks; deciding on the right technology and tools that make sense with the organization’s strategy; technology resourcing, such as capital, skilled staff and volunteers; and navigating the changing landscape of technology and technology policy. 

Divides between the technology and non-profit sectors 

Working in Silicon Valley, Hurst saw first-hand the resources that start-ups had when it came to scaling capital and recruitment but said this infrastructure to help organizations scale was not available for non-profits. 

That led Hurst to launch the Taproot Foundation in 2001, which connects skilled professionals in finance, technology, marketing, HR and design to non-profits to offer up their services on a pro bono basis. 

But Hurst was barely scratching the surface of the need for these skills in the non-profit sector, he said.

There was an apparent chasm: when running Taproot, Hurst and his team found non-profits that didn’t need additional assistance often had experts in these functions on their boards. Those boards often had a more long-term view and strategy than a one-time consultancy project, he added. 

However, technology professionals often didn’t know what the role of a board member was in the non-profit sector, said Hurst, adding they were unaware of the boundaries between board members and staff and the expectations around donations. 

Despite that, more than 400,000 technology professionals on LinkedIn recently expressed they would be interested in joining a non-profit board, according to search data from September 2023. 

Given that the two worlds don’t often intersect, Hurst said there needs to be some consideration in how the program is designed to be mutually beneficial. 

“How do you make sure technology execs don’t just apply the thinking of a big company to a non-profit, or that they aren’t selling software to a non-profit?,” he said.

“Those same [concerns] are true in accounting and legal. It’s a universal issue, not a tech sector issue per se.”

Funding a matching service

Four corporate partners have joined to incubate and fund the initial stages of Board.Dev including security and identity company Okta, which had been looking to finance a similar project for a few years. 

Okta provided the funding for the initial research, including 50 interviews with stakeholders in both the non-profit and technology sectors. 

“We started with the hypothesis that there is a need for technical governance akin to financial and legal governance,” said Erin Baudo Felter, vice president of social impact and sustainability at Okta. “Boards have not changed in 100 years.”

The research found a disconnect between the perspectives of non-profit CEOs and their board chairs: the latter often tells the former that they need technology solutions to increase efficiency and productivity but cannot necessarily provide the expertise to help the non-profit achieve those goals. 

“We don’t want to make tech practices the weak link or Trojan horse that comprises the financial operations or day to day,” one non-profit CEO said during the research phase.

“Tech is our area of greatest exposure.”

As well as providing initial funding, Okta is also an active tester of the Board.Dev service. The company is placing technology executives on non-profit boards, including deputy chief security officer Charlotte Wylie. Wylie has worked in the cybersecurity industry for 17 years, and six months ago, joined the board at Genesys Works. The US-based charity connects high school students with internship opportunities in top employers. 

Wylie said she has not only worked with the CIO to understand the non-profit’s digitization strategy better but has also learned what the board’s role is in a non-profit. 

The “rhythm” of a non-profit can be quite different from a large corporation like Okta, which has given her a stronger appreciation for what it takes to operate within a tight budget, she added.

For Genesys Works, having a cybersecurity professional from a major technology company on their board accomplishes two goals:  not only is Okta able to host Genesys Works interns, but Wylie’s expertise can also help the non-profit navigate data security, said president and CEO Jeffrey Artis. 

Building a movement within the technology sector 

By 2030, Board.Dev wants to have 30,000 technology leaders placed on non-profit boards. Okta aims to bring between three and five additional corporate partners in the next six months to help fund and scale the project. 

However, with scale also comes sensitivity to each non-profit’s needs and each technology leader’s area of expertise. 

“The answers are very different for a two-person non-profit in comparison to a $100 million non-profit,” Hurst said. 

“One is more hands-on, and the other, where there is a CIO or CTO, requires more oversight.”

Despite both sides being excited about the potential of the matching process, “there is a huge translation exercise” that needs to take place, said Baudo Felter.

“It takes time to get to know each others’ contexts.”

“We assumed at the beginning that the most important thing was matching the technical need to the technical expertise. What we found was much more simple: that both need to be passionate about the mission,” she added. 

“At the end of the day, this is about folks stepping out of their responsibilities to offer something additional.”

  • Sharlene Gandhi

    Based between the UK and Canada, Sharlene has been reporting on responsible business, environmental sustainability and technology since 2018. She has worked with various organizations in this time, including the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business at Lancaster University, AIGA Eye on Design, Social Enterprise UK and Nature is a Human Right. Sharlene moved to Tkaronto in early 2023 to join the Future of Good team, where she has been reporting at the intersections of technology, data and social purpose work. Her reporting has so far spanned a number of subject areas, including AI policy, cybersecurity, ethical data collection, and technology partnerships between the private, public and third sectors.

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