When I was 5 years old, my grandma would regularly take me to a convalescent home to visit my great-grandmother who had Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to seeing great-grandma, I’d pass the time sharing stories, laughs and gummy bears with the other residents. By age 15, I was a candy striper at my local hospital, and at 19 an intern at MakeA-Wish Foundation, assisting in the planning and executing of events. At this point, I was hooked! Not only to the events industry but also to the feeling I received when giving back.
In my early 20s, I joined the International Special Events Society (now ILEA), first as a committee member and soon after at the board level. The insights and experience I gained from my tenure here set me up for success when I later considered a role on The Food Bank of the Rockies Young Professionals board.
Now, married with two young boys, I no longer have the freedom to volunteer my time and money to unlimited charities. Instead, I chose my top three community organizations. One of those, Warren Village, empowers homeless single-parent families (many of which are victims of domestic violence) by assisting them with on-site housing, daycare, employment and college scholarships. I’ve been contributing to this organization for the last dozen years and now have the honor of serving on its board.
But where do you start if you’re new to volunteering? Maybe, like me, you have a career that already takes most of your bandwidth, on top of a family and other commitments. How do you possibly find the time to give back to the nonprofits you care most about? And why would you seek out a board role? If you want to truly elevate your game as an event professional, here are a few things to consider.
Where Does My Passion Lie?
Whether it is social justice, homelessness, hunger or the environment, there is something that strikes a chord with everyone. Similar to your job, if you are not passionate about what you are doing, you will either become bored or disengaged quickly. Find a nonprofit that aligns with your sense of purpose, and then find a way to get engaged.
Why Serve at a Board Level?
Many may think that this level of commitment is more than a stretch, but when you find the right fit, the benefit is tenfold. Not only do you see the return in the people or groups served in the community, it also gives you the chance to truly showcase your skill set and gain new areas of knowledge.
Also, when you actively participate as a board member, you are exposed to the best and the brightest in the community. This could mean a C-level executive that may be your future mentor or sponsor or a way to build your business.
Where Should I Begin?
I’ve found that the best way to understand a nonprofit and gain insights into its board is to join a committee first. That way you can truly evaluate if you are passionate about the organization and interested in devoting more time, treasure and talent. When board nominating committees are looking for new board members, this is often their first stop.
We all have a responsibility to make our community better and promote the meeting and events industry in the process. So don’t wait! To quote JFK, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”