April, 2009 Click… Bushfire in Australia kills over 150 people, exact numbers still unknown … Click… the WHO now considers the swine flu outbreak to be an emergency of international concern … Click…an Alabama man kills 9 people before committing suicide … Click …
I wanted to “DO SOMETHING”. Only, I wasn’t really sure what that “SOMETHING” was- I just had a fuzzy, unfocused and sincere desire to help. I had recently graduated college, was stuck in a boring job, and my only response to horrible things happening in the world, was to click over to cat videos or, at most, write an impassioned Facebook post, where friends would join me in my outrage and inaction.
At a friend’s suggestion, I started leisurely looking for a volunteer opportunity. I had volunteered all through high school and mostly enjoyed it. It was better than nothing, and I certainly didn’t have oodles of money to put towards some brilliant cause, nor did I have the years of wisdom or education to solve the problems of the world. When I saw MAP for Nonprofits at a job fair, I asked if they knew of anyone looking for a volunteer. “Oh,” the woman said, “You don’t want to just volunteer- you want to be on a board of directors.” …Me? On a board of directors? Weren’t board members old, rich, white men? I excelled at stuffing envelopes, and showed some brilliance at setting up tables, but I had no idea if I could be a board member.
What was a board member anyway? I looked it up on Attorney General’s Office website and came away terrified. “To Exercise the Proper Duty of Care, Loyalty and Obedience…” What did that even mean? A few Google searches later, I was back to MAP. I signed up for their 2 hour Board Boot Camp, an introduction to what it means to serve on a board. Suddenly, being a board member very attainable. Go to meetings, lead strategically, be the best steward you can of the resources given to you (people’s money, time and passion) and always consider the mission of the organization in any decision.
I put my name into MAP’s pool of potential board members. The process was simple-I filled out an online form, then had an informal phone interview with a MAP volunteer and we discussed my interests, availability, inability to donate massive sums of money, preferred locations and my desire to “DO SOMETHING.” They took my answers and matched them to several organizations looking for the skills I had to offer. I researched them, and met the current board chair of one organization for lunch. She apparently liked me, and invited me to sit in on the next board meeting.
That first board meeting was confusing—I was not sure of most of the names or ideas referenced, and I was still learning about the programs offered. It surprised me that there was so much laughter going on, right through discussions about finances and decisions on marketing. I decided I wanted to be a part of it, and I was voted in (a low-key decision for them, but kind of nerve-wracking for me!).
As the months passed, I realized that while being on a board was challenging, it was also fascinating. I and the other board members were responsible for guiding an organization that employed many people and worked with countless others. It should have been terrifying, but wasn’t. I was working with people who shared a passion for the mission of the organization and it was so energizing! My “DOING SOMETHING” was impacting me more than I had thought possible.
I’ve been on a few boards since then and I’m still learning. Being a board member has been incredibly helpful as a resume builder, has introduced me to people and ideas I would not have otherwise encountered, and even changed my career path, as I moved from the for-profit to nonprofit sector.
While I’ve enjoyed some boards more than others, I’ve never let go of the sense of excitement I feel stepping into a board meeting. I am surrounded by people willing not only to work, but to cheerfully take on responsibly for the work of guiding a nonprofit organization to best fulfill its mission.