I’ve always had a desire to impact my community. So, as I reached my late 20s, I was hoping to join a nonprofit organization as a member of their Board of Directors. I think back then I thought it was a smart career move—I’m a huge fan of networking and meeting new people (hello from a high “I”). But joining a board isn’t that easy, or, it shouldn’t be. Let me explain. Updated: As of September 2018, I am no longer serving on the Board of Directors for ProAct Indy.
According to the Indiana Non-profit Database, there are currently 567 registered nonprofit organizations in Marion County. That means there are 567 organizations working to make a meaningful impact in one Indiana county. Now, imagine you have to pick one. For some, joining a board is easy. Perhaps there’s one cause or initiative that’s close to your heart. But for others, like myself, you may not be sure. If you’re uncertain—as I was—about which initiative you’re most passionate about, take your time making a decision.
From my experience, boards are searching for something in their board members. Perhaps they could really use someone with legal knowledge, or an entrepreneur that isn’t afraid to think big, or, like in my instance, someone who could help strengthen the organization’s communication. Take your time to figure out what. Meet with current board members. Develop questions for them before your meeting to get a real feel for the personalities you’ll be working alongside and skills they’re searching for in candidates. Because there are 567 nonprofit organizations in Marion County alone, you have options. Choose wisely. Not just for the board, but so that you’re able to enjoy the experience!
Expect to work.
Yep, I said it. Joining a Board of Directors shouldn’t be something you do for a resume line. It should be something you do because you’re passionate about the cause, willing to lend your time and talents, and committed to moving the organization forward in a positive direction.
Back in 2016, when I was a marketing and public relations manager with the City of Fishers, Mayor Fadness appointed me to the Fishers Freedom Festival Board of Directors. That situation had some nuances given the city was trying to usher in change to the festival itself, but it was a very eye-opening experience. During my short stint with the Fishers Freedom Festival, I began to appreciate diversity. Now hear me out—that is not me dropping a buzzword and backing away. When I was on the Fishers Freedom Festival board, most of the members had been on the board since the festival’s inception nearly thirty years ago. That’s not to say they weren’t talented individuals. But it is to say that it was hard to usher in new ideas and change, because it seemed so drastic from where the festival began. Having a diverse board—in age, background, and experiences—creates a melting pot of perspectives and personalities. I’d argue every day that that recipe is in the best interest of whatever task is at hand.
Fast-forward to 2017—I was back on the board market again. My term with the Fishers Freedom Festival had come to a close, and I was searching for my next opportunity to serve. But this time, I wasn’t looking for whatever came along. I had a newfound awareness of the work required from board members and wanted to ensure my time was being contributed in ways that fulfilled me.
Coincidentally, at this time, there were a variety of conversations taking place in my household. I mention it in most posts, just because I don’t want to assume readers are following my every move, but I’m a full-time, single parent to a bi-racial pre-teen (catch up on that here). There were various happenings in mainstream media that led my son to ask me questions like, “Mom, what would people think back in the day that your skin is light, and I’m your son, and my skin is dark?”, or “Mom, what is unconscious bias and what are yours?”, or “Mom, does the KKK still exist in 2018?” Yeah, I immediately lost every word in my vocabulary, too. As I processed my son’s realizations about his ethnicity, I also came to the realization that as a white female, I’m not going to be able to answer his questions from my experiences. So, I did what I hope any of us would do—I reached out to people that I trusted who could connect with my son in ways that I couldn’t. And one of those people was a friend from my undergrad days at IUPUI.
Derrin Slack is the best kind of good. I’d say that to his face, but he’d probably brush it off and change the topic quickly. In 2012, Derrin created ProAct Indy with one goal—empower youth. You see, Derrin wanted to create an organization that empowered students with tools and mentors that would build their confidence to go make a difference in our community. And he did just that. Derrin and I met at Starbucks, as we typically did over the years, and jumped into conversation about life—kids, work, recent headlines. I talk too much, so Derrin graciously listened while I shared some of the experiences happening in my household and began detailing how I was trying to ensure my son had resources he needed to connect with individuals who could truly understand his experiences. Little did I know, I was making Derrin’s case for him.
Whether Derrin was aware going into our coffee or not, when we parted ways, he urged me to sit down with ProAct Indy’s Board President. Derrin thought given my passion for community, desire to support our youth, and communication-based career, that I would be a good addition to the board. As of January 2018, I assumed my role on the ProAct Indy Board of Directors.
You get what you give.
Joining the board of ProAct Indy has been awesome, and I mean that wholeheartedly. But it did take me some time to figure out my role. I found that I wasn’t as comfortable weighing in on finance decisions pretty quickly, but I also realized there were other areas I could help further the organization—that were within my skillset. Since joining the board, I’ve working with staff to help improve social media content, internal communication, and media relations efforts to heighten overall awareness about the impact ProAct is making throughout Indianapolis.
But for me, joining a board isn’t just about serving the organization at an operational level—it’s also about rolling up my sleeves and getting into work. All of the service projects I’ve assist with so far were at Seven Steeples Farm. Seven Steeples Farm is located at Central State, and a group of developers purchased the land with hopes of revitalizing the property to help meet needs in the community. Complete with a labyrinth, chicken coops, a children’s garden, and a larger garden, the hope is that upon completion, the property will give residents nearby a newfound pride in their community. The development will also offer a safe place for the community to gather, and, hopefully, will help meet food insecurities in the years to come.
As with any service, it’s almost always more rewarding for the volunteer who’s able to help make a difference—and I’m not just talking about my new appreciation for tilling the ground with a shovel! Serving with ProAct has left me inspired by the individuals I’m working alongside, of all ages and backgrounds. [Take these teens for example, the work they recently completed is amazing. Catch up on that here.] It’s reminded me how blessed I am to not only be able to give back, but for the countless things I take for granted on a daily basis. It’s also helped me get more connected to my community. But beyond that, serving with ProAct has immersed my son and me in service. We’ve had profound conversations about diversity, socioeconomics, education, and systemic barriers that make life harder for some than it is for others—and let me tell you, those conversations are invaluable.
So, what are you waiting for? Start browsing that list of 567 nonprofit organizations and find one that fits you—and then, reach out for coffee, because all great conversations start there!