People of Influence

Trudy Schroeder

Not on Your Life!

“Ha, I will never voluntarily sit in another meeting in my life.” That is just one of the responses I have had when I have asked a community member to consider serving on a volunteer board of directors.  For many people, time spent in meetings is time that they consider to be wasted.  They may have had experience in endless staff meetings in which very little was accomplished, but staff members were bored and stressed and unable to work on projects with looming deadlines.

Other people hate making group decisions.  They know that they are at their best making fast decisions and moving forward, and they detest the reduced pace that is part of the group decision making process.  I have heard a surprising number of interesting, intelligent, and seeming kind people say that they do not allow themselves to sit on boards because they cause too much turmoil on a board.  I have always considered that to be a surprisingly self-aware response.  I have seen quite a few shockingly destructive people join boards and be completely oblivious to how much damage and disarray they have caused to an organization by their participation in the board of directors.

While I believe that making a voluntary contribution of time and money to a charity that is of personal interest is fundamental to the continuation of a civil society, I recognize that many people are not cut out to serve effectively as board members of organizations with a mission to address specific social or cultural gaps in our society.  For some people, finding active ways to help in a very practical manner is by far a better contribution.  In those cases, work in the hands-on ways that are best for you.  There are endless ways to help from knitting blankets to gardening to cleaning and building.  Volunteer opportunities are limitless, and there is bound to be some way that you can be of assistance in a way that fully matches your skills and interests. Just call an organization that interests you and ask about volunteer programs or needs.

However, there are also people who have a natural interest in the mechanics of making organizations work better.  They know that their skills and experience can be helpful on boards, and they enjoy the experience.  Serving as a volunteer board member can be a very satisfying and rewarding way of participating in community life. After years of living and working in our community, we all will have found several causes or organizations that connect with our interests in a special way.  It is also common to find that we have a bit more time to engage in community work once our children are grown or we retire from our work.

All charitable organizations have a need for board members who can help to take on the roles related to oversight, direction, and overall success of the organization’s ability to achieve its mission. This can range from assisting a small grass-roots operation to serving on a very large national or international board with responsibility for a complex mandate and a very large operating budget.

After decades of working as the executive director of charitable organizations and many decades of serving as a board member on boards for organizations of all types, I have learned a few lessons about effective service on a charitable board, and I can also speak to the huge benefits that volunteer work of this type can provide to our society and the people engaged in the work.

I have seen a good share of the joy of accomplishment, the frustration of failure, the everyday drama of people working together, many friendships formed, and even a few romances. I will share more about this over the next few months.