By Anne Conroy-Baiter
(This Column Ran on FloridaToday.com 11/5/2017)
Fun Fact: There are more than 2,100 nonprofits in Brevard County. 2,100! (https://cpkb.s3.amazonaws.com/4297/55bb9ba6d5c3f.pdf)
Given those numbers, the odds are fairly high that many Brevardians will have the opportunity to serve on a nonprofit board at some point. Board service can be one of the most rewarding things a person can do—helping an organization do good work and giving back to your community can provide balance and perspective to a busy life. It can also serve your career by elevating your community profile and broadening your contact base.
Perhaps exploring what makes a good board member from the nonprofit perspective would be helpful to those of you considering serving.
I have a little experience in this arena: more than two decades of managing boards, serving on boards, and reporting to boards. So this should be an easy question to answer, but in truth, it’s not. Board service varies from organization to organization, depending on culture, mission, size, budget, and history.
Therefore, I’ll boil it down to the most basic elements. And while I’m at it, how about I make them an easy-to-remember alliteration: Access, Activity, Advocacy.
First up, Access. In a nutshell, if you commit to serving on a board, be accessible to staff. Sounds simple, but if you ask most nonprofit executives what their number one board improvement would be, it would be better access. Answer emails, RSVP to meetings, and take phone calls. Yes, we know you’re busy, and in that respect, well-managed nonprofits will be careful not to overload you with communication.
On the other hand though, there’s a reason we reach out…we need you. We need your guidance, participation, connections, and assistance. And think about this—one of your duties as a board member is the oversight of responsible resource management. If every board member requires multiple contacts to get a response, just consider the wasted capacity of staff–capacity that could be focused on mission. So next time, hit reply please. We promise we’ll be nice.
Next, Activity. If you choose to serve on a nonprofit board, make a commitment to be active. Again, we need you. We need you to serve the mission, help at events, raise the money, sell some tickets, attend the board meetings, pack food for kids, serve on a committee, visit with the elderly, volunteer in a classroom. Not all at once of course.
Being active will also serve your professional goals. After all, beyond serving the mission, there’s a reason you serve, right? To network, to market your business, to make connections, to further your career. And the only way to meet those goals is to be active, because simply being a name on a board list doesn’t cut it in Brevard. This community is too socially philanthropic to get away with it.
Finally, Advocacy. I can’t stress how important it is to choose an organization to support whose mission moves you. The work being done should feel important—vital, even—to who you are as a person and what you hope for your community. It should resonate with your core values. That passion will make board meetings painless and fundraising shameless. It will fuel every interaction, rendering it enjoyable even in the midst of balancing a busy family and career.
Now go forth and speak. No, you don’t need to memorize the mission word for word, but you should be able to summarize the work in a sentence or two and state why it’s important to you and to Brevard. Some of my favorite inquiries begin “I was speaking with one of your board members, and…” Your words educate others, recruit volunteers, raise money, and increase awareness. Your advocacy is priceless.
So there you have it. Access. Activity. Advocacy. But allow me to add one more: Appreciation. Because nonprofits simply cannot be successful without the dedicated, loyal, and generous board members with whom Brevard is blessed.
Anne Conroy-Baiter is president of Junior Achievement Center of the Space Coast. Since 1984, JASC has been enabling Brevard youth to own their economic futures. Through the JA cores of financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and work readiness, volunteers bring JA programs to K-12 Brevard classrooms at no cost to the schools or to tax payers.
Columnist series are sponsored by weVENTURE, powered by the Florida Institute of Technology. weVENTURE has locations in Melbourne and Rockledge. The Center is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. For more information, visit weventure.org or call 321-674-7007.