Giving Back through Governance

The holidays are over, but I want to talk about a form of giving, that unlike last month, won’t put a dent in your wallet, and will actually pay you back in ways you might not expect. I’m referring to joining a local, not-for-profit, board of directors.

Governance can be both incredibly rewarding and challenging at the same time. On the board of directors of a nonprofit organization, you support a cause you value, find networking opportunities, and, when comprised of the right mix of people, you learn from colleagues across many industries and walks of life. Sounds good, right?

However, when it comes to major decisions, that same mix is bound to disagree, and disagree hard. Don’t fret – professional discourse and disagreement can result in great decisions, once a decision is reached. Don’t let tough times make you throw in the towel. What you may not realize are the added benefits to participating on such a group. You aren’t just giving back to your community, you are giving back to yourself. As it relates to volunteering, best-selling author and personal finance guru Suze Orman says, We really need to start putting on different-colored glasses to see not only how we help the world but also help ourselves as well.”

So what does she mean, to “help ourselves”? I look at it this way: do you want to be a more valuable employee, a generous leader, a better friend? Volunteering on a board can benefit you personally and professionally by exercising these skills on a regular basis:

  • Patience: if you are not naturally gifted with this trait, being on a board will help you dial in your temperament, and fast. You may not understand fully how the world sees you until your patience is tested in a smaller group on a regular basis. The more hands in the cookie jar, the longer some decisions may take, so patience becomes one of your greatest virtues.
  • Compromise: You may not realize how unyielding you are until you are challenged by a roomful of people you aren’t related to. That stubbornness may work at home, but not here.
  • Strategic planning: One of the most important responsibilities of a board is to keep an organization on track with a strategic plan. What are the short term and long term goals and how to we achieve them? Regular practice of formulating priorities and objectives is a part of strategic planning. Furthermore, managing risk and capitalizing on open opportunities not only benefits the organization, but also your own activities in work and life.

You must be collaborative and open to new ideas in order to gain new perspectives. When giving time to a mission you believe in, you are bound to be a vocal contributor, wholeheartedly working toward that mission. As we enter a new year, let’s continue to give of our time to local causes important to us. Find local opportunities to serve at the following sites, or contact organizations you value directly:


The Bridgespan Group

LinkedIn board positions

The ExecRanks Inc.

Find Yourself in Service to Others

If you think about the great expanse that is the United States, there are about 35,000 cities and towns, and of that number, only about 4,000 of those are considered “cities” as defined by a population of 10,000 or more permanent residents. Definitions vary depending where you go, but using this figure as a measure, the majority, like my town, don’t have a high population.

When you support local businesses with your time or your money, you are supporting your neighbors. You are investing in your local economy and helping the community thrive. Local businesses provide alternative options to large chains. No, you might not be able to pick up your favorite flavor of Jell-O at the local mom-and-pop shop, but keeping your neighbors in business benefits you.

Since October 2015, I have served on the Board of Directors at Wood River Health Services in Hope Valley, RI. When I was seeking volunteer opportunities within my small community, this seemed like a natural fit based on my professional experience. Our mission at WRHS is “to improve the health and well-being of our community by assuring access to affordable high quality healthcare, coordinated services, and health related information.”

Giving of your time takes you out of yourself, at the same time provides a window in to yourself. Placing focus on an issue or cause that is important to you not only benefits that cause but also benefits you in your own personal growth. Suze Orman has spoken about volunteering. You should choose wisely where to place your focus. Identify the benefits you get from volunteering. Does it support your career? Does it help you advance your own skill development, all the while making a difference? I like to think WRHS gains from my experience and in return I learn from my peers on the Board.

Regardless of how you spend your time, professionally or personally, make sure it is something you are passionate about. People can tell when you love what you do.