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Is this Seat Taken?

November 24, 2015

lisa 5Today’s guest blog is written by AmeriCorps alumna Lisa Tatum and is part of AmeriCorps Alums’ REALTalk series on race, equity, and AmeriCorps alumni as leaders. Lisa serves as the Senior Manager of Disaster Preparedness at VolunteerNow (formerly the Volunteer Center of North Texas), and her service began in 1997 with AmeriCorps NCCC as a Western Region Corps Member (full bio included below the blog).

You can find AmeriCorps members and alums leading social change in classrooms, community centers, nonprofits, healthcare offices, national parks, and pretty much anywhere people are making a difference. So why aren’t more AmeriCorps alumni asking for a seat in the board room?

If you’re ready to take your volunteering to the next level, make board service part of your lifetime of service. By taking a leading role in guiding a nonprofit’s strategy, you can ensure it will make a greater impact on its clients and the community.

Not sure where to start? Neither was I, at first, so I started small. My board service began with the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership program of North Texas, which offers a seminar for Texas youth so they can discover themselves and grow as servant leaders. I’m now serving as the President of the Board of Directors for a charter school called Trinity Environmental Academy, which I helped open. Anyone can serve on a board. To be a good board member you just have to be passionate about the cause your board serves and willing to contribute your time, resources, and expertise.

Recently, I joined AmeriCorps Alums at the Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service and spoke on a panel about board service. The panel was led by BoardSource, a national nonprofit dedicated to advancing the public good by building exceptional nonprofit boards and inspiring board service.  We talked about how to find an opportunity to serve and how to inspire more AmeriCorps alums to find leadership roles as board members.

BoardSource

Board Service Panel (left to right): Anne Wallestad (CEO of BoardSource), Andrew Davis (Director of Training, BoardSource), Lisa Tatum, Mary Bruce (AmeriCorps Alums Co-ED), and Daphne Brookins (Board Member at One Star Foundation)

If you’re considering board service, here are a few things you can do now to find a board

  • Find a Cause You Believe In. Figure out what you’re passionate about. Check out this tool from BoardSource to help you zero in on what’s important to you and what board opportunities are available. Then, start volunteering at organizations which support it and attending their fundraising events. Volunteering and networking is a great way to start understanding how an organization works, getting to know its culture and leadership, and deciding if a greater role would be right for you. Keep in mind that it takes time to build a relationship with a nonprofit, and determine if board service is the right fit.
  • Do Some Research. Get to know current board members and see how you might fit in. What skills do you have that the board needs? In what stage of development is the board? Would you be helping to create a structure or building on a strong, existing foundation? Ask questions about what expectations the board has for you. As my fellow panelist and alum, Andy Davis said, “Date, before you marry.” As the director of training at BoardSource, Andy helps current board members and aspiring ones understand what a board is and how it grows and functions to reach its potential.
  • Make a Commitment. Know that being on a board is a serious decision that enhances your liability, role, and responsibility to that organization. You’ll make decisions on what other organizations to support or activities to participate in based on the mission of the organization you serve as a board member.
  • Explore AmeriCorps Alums Benefits from BoardSource. Once you’ve accepted a role on a board, take advantage of the organizational discount BoardSource offers through AmeriCorps Alums. Thanks to that partnership, alumni can offer nonprofit boards on which they serve a 15% discount on BoardSource’s standard organizational membership. This membership includes unlimited training access for all employees and board members, as well as access to the online resource center and the email-based “Ask a Question” service. In addition, membership grants the nonprofit and its board members complimentary assessment tools to make sure they stay on track with their mission and goals.

If you’re dedicated to making your community stronger, don’t miss out on your chance to take your volunteering to the next level. Think about joining a nonprofit board today!

Author Bio: Lisa Tatum serves as the Senior Manager of Disaster Preparedness at VolunteerNow (formerly the Volunteer Center of North Texas), and her service began in 1997 with AmeriCorps NCCC as a Western Region Corps Member. In her career Lisa has responded to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Super Storm Sandy, and she now provides professional consulting and support to communities nationally. She also promotes service as a chapter leader for the AmeriCorps Alums of North Texas and as a key member of the North Texas AmeriCorps Alliance. Additionally, she serves as the Board Chair of Trinity Environmental Academy.

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