By Dave Greenbaum
AFTER YOU’VE FINISHED YOUR WORKOUT AT THE END OF A BUSY workday, the last thing you’re thinking about is another meeting. For many Kansas Citians though, that extra meeting can be the most important and fulfilling part of their day because they serve on a local board of directors and gladly volunteer their time.
Board service isn’t just a resume builder; members can make a real impact providing oversight and direction. Recent news out of Lawrence shows the importance of board action. When Jeremy Farmer, executive director of local food bank Just Food (who also happened to be the city’s mayor) resigned over alleged financial mismanagement, the actions of board members were an important part of the story.
On the right board, your time can benefit a cause you believe in, which can be as valuable as the paycheck you get from your day job.
HOW TO JOIN A BOARD
I know when I was first approached to join a board after college I thought I was way too young and inexperienced to help lead an organization. I had bills to pay, so volunteering wasn’t in the budget. Taly Friedman felt the same way after she graduated from KU. She’s currently Director of Volunteer Engagement at Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City (jfskc. org). Friedman was involved in KU Hillel in college. She realized she could offer her perspective as a fresh college graduate to her fellow board members.
If you’re new to a community, serving on a board is a great way to meet people with common interests, but the people you meet might go beyond city limits. Callahan Creek’s Director of Emerging Media Ben Smith served on the board of a nationwide group, the Social Media Club (www.socialmediaclub.org). With over 350 chapters, many overseas, Smith worked with people not just from the United States, but also Europe and the Middle East, and it led to travel opportunities and new friendships in multiple countries.
Religious institutions, universities, professional organizations, cause-based groups, and government entities all operate with boards of directors. Katy Ibsen Carroll is General Manager of Sunflower Publishing, a division of the World Company in Lawrence, Kansas. Carroll chairs the Lawrence Humane Society’s board of directors (lawrencehumane.org). Her love of animals made working with the board a natural fit. James New was already a volunteer trainer at Connecting for Good (www.connectingforgood.com), a KC-based organization that helps bridge the digital divide. He has a background in IT, so he wanted to help the organization on a more strategic level by joining their board. Brendon Allen, a software engineering director at a broadband technology company lost part of his leg due to Osteosarcoma and wears a prosthetic below his knee. He joined the board of the Steps of Faith Foundation (www. stepsoffaithfoundation.org) which works to provide financial support to amputees because he realized “the difference that lack of access to even basic prosthetics could make on the quality of life of amputees.”
As you might imagine, boards come in all shapes, sizes, and commitments. They might meet yearly and have dozens of members. Other boards may meet on a monthly basis. I currently serve on the LGBT board of Miami University of Ohio. We meet monthly over the phone and yearly for a retreat. Like Friedman, I love staying connected to my alma mater. Most boards will give you an idea of how much time and money they expect from you.
WHY JOIN A BOARD?
When you join a board, you’ll meet people. Carroll loves the connections she made at the Lawrence Humane Society: “I love popping into the shelter and talking to the team members about what shenanigans happened with a funny dog, to see how we are fighting for animals who can’t speak, or to see a family working with one of our adoption counselors–it’s an awesome feeling felt with awesome people.”
Serving on a board also can help you develop new professional skills. Ben Smith helped Social Media Club navigate through an important leadership transition. Friedman mentioned that her board service allows her to “meet people of all ages and backgrounds and helped me expand my professional network. “ Carroll learned how to be a better manager by working alongside her team members. Boards make decisions about human resources, finances and advertising. If you’ve just graduated, or if you’re out of work, board service can help build up your portfolio and gain experience that will help you get a job. To a potential employer it means you didn’t just sit around all summer watching the Royals!
All of the board members I spoke said the most valuable aspect of their service though was the satisfaction of giving back to their communities. Smith said that serving on a board “is a chance to ‘do.’ Joining the right board is a unique opportunity to make an impact and leave a legacy.” I know with my membership on Miami University’s LGBT board, I help make the school a safer place for students of all backgrounds.
WHAT A NON-PROFIT WANTS FROM YOU
I’ve heard this said many ways, but most boards want one or more of the three T’s: treasure, time and talent. Treasure. That means you write a check. If your check is big enough, you get a seat on the board. Even if you’re not a walking endowment association, many boards request a small donation to show support. Friedman was concerned that she couldn’t make the larger contribution that other board members could make, but she was able to contribute in other ways. Many boards though won’t ask any money of you if you aren’t able to afford it.
Time. That means you provide free labor. Some nonprofits get much of their legwork from the sweat equity of their board members. Smith’s membership on the Social Media Club’s board required a time commitment that was critical in helping the group continue to grow.
Talent. That means you have something unique to contribute. Don’t think your skill isn’t valuable. In my case, I fix computers. You might be a graphic artist or a financial wiz. The Lawrence Humane Society needed help with public relations and marketing and asked Carroll to share her talents. New already had a background in IT, so he was able to share those skills with Connecting for Good.
HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT BOARD
Start by identifying organizations you’d be interested in. Go to a few events to get a feel for the group. You might go to a rally or just walk a few dogs. Once you find one you like, join a committee or a sub-committee first. Get a feel for how the organization runs.
What’s the best way to see how functional a board is? Read the minutes. Most minutes will be publically available or published on the organization’s website.
Once you’re ready, let a few board members know that you’re interested and that you’d like a chance to serve when a new opening pops up. Larger groups may have general elections for board members, but smaller ones usually vote as a board.
GIVE IT A TRY
The Kansas City area has much to offer in the way of board involvement as the experiences of Carroll, New, and Friedman show. Smith and Allen took their causes to a national and international level. Whatever groups you decide to get involved with, don’t wait until the end of your career to get started. Now’s the time in your life to make a difference and make the world a better place. Instead of going home at night frustrated about your day at work, you’ll go to sleep knowing that your labor changed lives.