From Your Career to the Boardroom

by Dara K. Marsh

Board-Room

On Tuesday, April 16th, the New York Urban League Young Professionals (NYULYP) held its monthly general body meeting (GBM). This GBM focused on encouraging young professionals to join leadership boards. Our keynote speaker for the night was Lewis Warren, Jr., Managing Director, Global Client Executive, Treasury & Securities Services, at JPMorgan Chase & Co. Mr. Warren also serves on the board of P.E.N.C.I.L., a non-profit partnership program that partners business leaders with public schools. The meeting also consisted of panel discussion that included representatives from IMANI HOUSE, Inc., Ocean Hill-Brownsville Coalition of Young Professionals, Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, and Quest Youth Organization, all of whom are actively recruiting board members.

As a member of the NYULYP Executive Board, I am knowledgeable about this topic, however this meeting particularly impressed me because 95% of all the work I do is supporting nonprofit organizations. Passion is a key ingredient for board participation, as our panelists highlighted. However, doing your research and evaluating self is a close second.  Research offers you the opportunity to decide if this is a commitment you want to make.

Board needs vary from one organization to another, but there are some essentials: a lawyer, an accountant, and someone knowledgeable about the field the organization operates in. The purpose of a board is to be responsible for the governance of the organization and they are tasked with protecting the public’s trust.  If something goes awry, it is the board that the government turns to. However, that is the role of the top-tier board and there are other types of boards that hold less responsibility, so don’t worry if you aren’t up to this level yet. But are you a lawyer or an accountant? Do you have these hard skills that can benefit a board? Do you want to share them? These are great questions to consider when you are thinking of giving back and are trying to figure out where you might fit best.

As Mr. Warren also pointed out, organizations have started instituting fiduciary requirements for board members. Since 9/11, nonprofit supporters have been steering away from providing support for general operations and now prefer to give restricted gifts. This can be detrimental to an organization. As a result, some organizations require that board members must either donate or solicit funds for the organization in order to ensure that it can sustain its own operations. When you are considering joining a board, you should find out what the financial responsibility of a board member is and decide if that is something you can commit to as well.

Depending on the needs and size of an organization, the volunteer requirements and commitments change. Some boards may need people certified in certain fields or prefer those with deep pockets. Or as Sister Bisi of IMANI HOUSE expressed, some organizations need folks with a large network. Linda Sylvester of Quest Youth wants people on her team who are passionate about educational arts. Whatever your gift, skills, or interests are, there is certainly a place for you on a board somewhere, just remember that the decision to answer the call to serve should not be taken lightly.

Leading can be demanding, exhausting, and frustrating but it is par for the course of being a representative and supporter of an incredible organization. As cliché as its sounds, the benefits can never be measured. Since joining the NYULYP board, I have enhanced my leadership, networking, and social media skills. I have also developed an amazing network of friends and business contacts, and have been exposed to people and events that I might not have otherwise. And more importantly, I get to share my passion with others, which is the greatest experience for me. Knowing that I helped a young adult or an elderly person, or knowing that I made a community healthier or happier is a reward that cannot be measured because it is truly invaluable. If you are drawn to a cause and just want to lend a hand, I urge you to seek ways to be of service.

In conclusion, I echo what Mr. Lewis, Sister Bisi, Ms. Sylvester and all of our speakers on Tuesday said: organizations need you. As young professionals, we are in a prime position to influence change while being groomed for greatness by excellent mentors. As long as you have the interest, time, and passion, organizations would be excited to have you join their team. But be sure to ask the right questions before making a commitment. I posed many throughout this post but I’ve created a list for you as well.

Be sure to ask:

  • How do I feel about the organization’s mission and culture?
  • How can I be of benefit to the organization? What skills can I bring?
  • What will I get from volunteering on this board? What skills can I develop?
  • Are the time and financial commitments realistic for me?
  • What is the term length and will I be able to complete a full term?
  • On what level should I get involved? Committees, advisory boards, executive boards, etc.?

I hope that you are as inspired as I was at the meeting. I am now asking and answering these very same questions while I consider participating on an advisory board for one of the featured organizations. I hope you would consider doing the same.

Yours in the Movement,

Dara K. Marsh | NYULYP Community Service Chair

About the Author, Dara K. Marsh
Dara K. Marsh holds a Bachelors of Arts from SUNY Purchase, where she served as Secretary of SISTAS for three years. She also holds a Masters of Arts in Educational Theater from NYU and a Masters of Public Administration in Nonprofit Administration from Baruch College. Over the past decade, Dara has worked in the development offices of several NYC nonprofits such as Hadassah, Columbia University, Osborne Association, and most recently the New York Law School. She is an avid fundraiser for the Avon Foundation Walk for Breast Cancer, a two day marathon, which she dedicates to her late sister and aunt. In 2012, she accepted the role of Community Service Chair with the New York Urban League Young Professionals.

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