By Molly Fast
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with non-profit organizations for nearly my entire career (that blip doing high-tech PR right as the dot com industry was plummeting barely counts). I’m equally as fortunate to have been able to put roots down at Event 360, a place I’ve been lucky to call home for nearly 16 years. After all these years working in fundraising events, this past summer I did something I’ve never done before: I joined the board of a local non-profit, here in Los Angeles.
Like most things, this came about simply because I was asked. In a 1:1 setting over a very typical Los Angeles lunch (kale was involved), a former Event 360 colleague turned Executive Director suggested I consider joining the board of the organization she’s been working at for the past eight years. I didn’t need much time to make a decision. After all, Girls on the Run is an organization I had been familiar with long before my friend started working there. And the thought of being able to use my professional skills in a different capacity was very appealing to me.
While I’ve only been a board member since July, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It’s been challenging, since the start of my tenure on the board coincided with the Susan G. Komen 3-Day season; I go to all seven events and staff other Event 360-produced events as well, which takes me out of town for days or weeks at a time. While the Girls on the Run board only meets once a month, the scheduling has been challenging. In fact, I’ve already found myself going from the airport on the heels of a work trip directly to a board meeting!
Crazy scheduling and intense travel aside, being on the board of Girls on the Run Los Angeles (GOTRLA) has been a rewarding opportunity —one I’m looking forward to building upon over the course of my three-year term. From the get-go, I knew there would be benefits (apart from having a reason to get showered, dressed and out of my home-based office from time-to-time). The three biggest benefits I’ve experienced so far are:
- Learning and developing new skills. Because I’ve been working on the same project in the same position for many years, work can sometimes feel stale. Don’t get me wrong: I love my job and feel endlessly fortunate for the people I get to do this work with. But because many of my Event 360 colleagues have also been with this team for many years and there is little turnover, there is not much opportunity for taking on a new role. So getting tapped to learn a new skill (hello grant writing!) is exciting and challenging. It’s giving me a new tool in my arsenal to develop and something new to try. I like the experience of not knowing something, and then taking the time to find online free courses to educate myself and then collaborate with my fellow board members so together we can make a meaningful contribution.
- Networking! As someone who has worked from home for the past 15 years with mostly the same people during that time, I appreciate getting to know new people. Not only that, but I’m meeting people who have backgrounds and professional experiences that are very different from mine. It’s refreshing to expand my social circle and to have new people to talk with about where I work and what I do!
- A better understanding of the inner-workings of non-profit organizations. Being on a board exposes you to a side that you just don’t see when you’re a partner of a non-profit (like we are here at Event 360). I’ve been fascinated to learn how much responsibility a board holds for a smaller organization like GOTRLA; I know it’s not always the case for larger non-profits with bigger staff sizes. But this peek behind the curtain has been eye-opening. It’s already helped me understand why decisions can take longer for some non-profits and how overall responsibilities are divided not just among staff but with board members as well.
If you’re considering joining a board, ask these three questions to make sure you have the time and resources to commit in a meaningful way:
- How frequently does the board meet in person? I live in the sprawling metropolis that is Los Angeles so this was important to me. I’m in a one-car family, and needed to make sure I could get myself to and from the meetings. Plus with a busy travel schedule for a good chunk of the year, I needed to make sure I’d be in town. Board members can only miss two meetings in a given year, so I had to be certain my travel schedule didn’t impact this requirement.
- Roughly how many hours of work a month are required for board responsibilities? You will likely sit on different committees and have work that you’re expected to do between meetings. Make sure it’s not so much it cuts into your regular work commitments or takes over your personal life. Only you know how much time you can allocate, but it’s important to know so you don’t bite off more than you can chew or let down your fellow board members by saying yes to things you won’t ultimately have the time to complete.
- What is the Give/Get policy for the board you are joining? I had never heard of this before I was approached to join the GOTRLA board. Most non-profit organizations have a Give/Get policy which requires board members to make a personal contribution (give) and/or raise funds from, family and friends (get). There’s a set amount you agree to contribute and then have to submit a plan outlining how you’re going to get there. It makes sense for board members to have skin in the game and to leverage their networks for financial support since we (the board) play such a large role in the financial health of the organization. But before joining, you’ll want to know what that amount is because not everyone is in a position, or has a desire, to be on the hook for this kind of a financial commitment.
I’ve been thinking about my colleagues and peers in the event fundraising/production space and how great of an opportunity sitting on a board could be for those who are feeling like they want to contribute in a different way or flex different muscles. We all have so much to contribute, and this is a great way to take all the experience we have and further the work of the non-profits we want to succeed. Maybe I’m the only one who’s late to this party. But if you’re like me, I encourage you to wear one more hat: board member!
Molly Fast leads the company’s local operations for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day series and is privileged to work with Event 360’s participant-facing team. For over 15 years, Molly has been fortunate enough to combine her love of fundraising with the ability to make a difference in the work she does focusing on exceeding expectations and delighting participants along the way. When not roaming around Ireland, Molly can be found taking photos, exploring hidden stair cases or talking to strangers in Santa Monica where she lives with her husband. You can find Molly on Twitter, LinkedIn and her favorite social media tool, Instagram.