Act Your Age… Join A Board

Me and you: we’re not in such different situations. You may have recently retired. I recently graduated. You may be a bit lonely without the everyday contact with coworkers, or because your social group is getting older or doesn’t visit as often as you’d like. I’m newly single and recently moved back to a city I haven’t lived in for over a year. We’re facing new challenges, trying to remain productive members of society, and maybe we’re all just a little lonely and a little bored.

Can I get an “Amen”?

It’s that boredom that’s the key. And for many, the solution is in the problem.

Bored? Why not join a board? Boards often require you to commit only one or two nights a month to attend meetings, and your level of involvement in the everyday work of the organization is subject to your own discretion. So why not? You get the social aspect of the meetings while remaining connected to people. Plus, it’s a way to give back to the community and feel like your contributions really matter.

Thus, on November 25, I sought my first position on a Board of Directors:

Jeff deViller, Board Member. I like the sound of that!

The event I attended was called “Boards & Beer”, and it was run by GenNext United Way. At a local brewery, nearly 20 non-profits had setup tables and (in speed dating fashion) they would meet with potential volunteers and board members ten minutes at a time. So donning my “job interview” shirt and tie, I left the warmth of my apartment and stormed the frigid evening air in search of opportunity.

I arrived with minutes to spare and was instantly greeted by a PR peer from my undergraduate years. Assisting in running the event, she was in the know and guided me through the experience. To start, all of the potential volunteers were given a chart with a list of the organizations involved, as well as a bookmark with the number of the table where we would start. As we met with prospective boards, they would take our number and write if they were interested. We would do the same on our chart. I was at table 12 of 12 and was attendee number 51 of 56. That’s what I get for registering the night before!

When the cow bell rang letting us know that the event had started, people rushed to their tables and mine filled up before I had a chance to take a seat. Somewhat embarrassed and not sure exactly what to do without a chair, I chose to sit the round out and ordered another $2 stout from the bar. A cute redhead, who appeared younger than the late 20’s/early 30’s crowd, approached me representing one of the potential boards. She gave me the prepared five minute spiel about her organization, and I politely asked a couple questions about her experience with the organization. I think, once upon a time, I used to be good at small talk. At the very least, I could engage a girl in a conversation without sounding like an android. If it were ever the case, it isn’t any more, and I do believe I spent the majority of our conversation talking about you, my good readers: retirement, retirement homes, and retirement activities…as engaging as that is for a cute girl at a bar.

The cowbell rang once again and I excused myself in search of more situations in which I could make awkward small talk. It wasn’t long before the opportunity presented itself. I sat with nine different organizations ranging from boys and girls clubs, to homeless shelters, to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Most complained that they didn’t have enough office space and hoped to move in the upcoming year. Many were seeking potential board members to make a three to 10 hour commitment. Around half of the organizations spent the entire 10 minutes explaining what their organization is, leaving no time for them to get to know us. And no one seemed to be using their charts.

That said, it was still an interesting experience. There are certainly voids in non-profits throughout the city that can only be filled by interested and engaged people such as you and me. I left the event a little tired from all of the small talk, but also a few résumés lighter with a pocketful of business cards. Not bad for a night’s work.

I didn’t get any callbacks to sit on a board. Perhaps an unemployed 23-year-old (who may move away within the month if a job presents itself) wasn’t what they were looking for. Or perhaps it’s only a matter of time before my phone starts ringing off the hook. Whatever the problem, it’s not something that you’d have to worry about. We may be in similar situations, but you have significantly more skills, experience, and contacts which make you a very valuable asset to any non-profit organization.

And I do highly suggest it! I’ve worked for a variety of non-profit organizations in my experience as a PR professional and as I search for full-time employment, I’m focusing my attention on these sorts of small groups. Not only does your contribution have more impact, but what you accomplish as an organization has more meaning with a cause you can be passionate about. If you don’t mind the limited funds, it’s a win-win!

So follow my lead! Make contacts! Attend networking events! And stop being bored by joining a board!

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