Today, we continue the conversation with Georgia to see how she took the next step and joined a board. She served on the Fay Biccard Glick Neighborhood Center board for six months, and currently serves as a board member for the Notre Dame Club of Indianapolis.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Why was it important for you to be on a board?
I think it was important to me, because a lot of the times when I was volunteering, I would think to myself, “why are we doing a process this way?” or “why are we mishandling this way we go about things?” and I really wanted to dig into who the decision maker was. For a lot of nonprofits, it’s the board. I think my friends who know me best know that I hate inefficiencies, or anything that is not working.
When I started opening my big mouth and asking questions, I found out “Oh, it’s the board making this choice. And it was set in stone, it was voted a year ago, we can’t change it.” So that’s when I really wanted to get involved.
As far as the Notre Dame Club [of Indianapolis], I just really want to give back to my school. I was on financial aid–I was the first person to go to college in my family. So to be able to give back and hopefully, raise funds for another kid like me in Indy to be able to go to Notre Dame is something that I owe to them and to the school. I can’t donate money, but I can at least donate my time. I think that my brain is more valuable than any check I could write at the moment. So that’s what I’m going to be doing in the meantime until I can cut a check and hopefully give someone a nice scholarship.
When being on boards, how do you avoid feeling unqualified or feeling like an imposter? How do you know what’s happening and what you’re doing?
I think one thing to ask for before the initial meeting is an agenda. That’s something that every meeting should have: an agenda. You should be able to go over that.
Also, most boards have a binder where they house everything. I just challenge everyone to flip through it because it has great nuggets of information about events that they do every year and the projected dollars that should come in.
With impostor syndrome, think of your strengths–I think one of mine is creativity. I was coming up with creative ways for the neighborhood center to put on an event like an outside movie screening drive-in. It’s something we were able to execute.
Fresh perspectives are what [boards] need. A lot of board members have been around for a while, so they’re stuck in their ways; they don’t think of doing something new. As long as you come off mute and contribute a new idea, even something we’ve done in Orr or in college, they probably haven’t thought of it. That’s an easy way to gain some credibility on a board.
Most board members are very kind and are excited to have you. They’re never mean–you really couldn’t say a wrong thing, unless you go out of your way to say something very rude. It’s not the most genius people sitting together—it’s just a group of people who really care. You have to be passionate about the causes. You can’t sit on a board and not be about it, because you won’t come up with any ideas. You have to find a cause you’re passionate about.
With your certification, what were some of your biggest takeaways? What were the skills participants learned from the program?
I think my biggest takeaways were that leadership and leveraging your strengths is what you need for a board: you have to have a solve it, can-do attitude; you have to work well on a team of people [where] the only similarity you have, quite frankly, is [that] you’re passionate about the cause.
The program was three months of training. It was six hour long sessions of training that covered topics like finance, fundraising, and sustainable volunteerism, like creating programs for volunteers to continue coming. I think that’s a huge function of the board as well.
What I learned is that there’s different types of boards. For an organization like the Neighborhood Center, which is small and on the west side of Indy, they have a senior housing program, preschool program, after school program, job and literacy training for Spanish speaking individuals… They have a lot going on and it was a working board. We weren’t coming up with a drip campaign—we were executing it. We weren’t coming up with the events—we were doing them. The president was there sitting with us; we were her leadership team to run this organization. And that was super interesting, because I didn’t work there. I didn’t know how this decision would trickle down. But it was important for me to swing by and check it out and see the experience of those who my decision would affect.
Now transitioning over to the Notre Dame Club of Indianapolis [board], it’s so different. We’re not running a nonprofit. The only reason we exist is to generate funds for [Notre Dame] students in Indianapolis to get scholarships. That’s the reason why we have over 220 city club boards in the United States for Notre Dame. It’s such a different cause. And it’s one that, suddenly I feel more attached to because I was that kid. And like I want to give back. We are a working board in a sense, but also we talk about big things like raising millions of dollars. And that gets me going, I think it’s really exciting.
Whereas at the neighborhood center, it wasn’t as, to be frank, sexy. We were talking about: how are we going to get enough money to repaint the basketball court? And the kids need their basketball court, how are we going to do it? And it was just such a different space.
I think that’s another thing to look into when you’re joining a board: Is it a working board? Am I going to be doing the executing? Or am I going to be the one coming up with a strategy?
I wouldn’t encourage anyone to rush into a board. That’s not really the point. You really network and talk to people that are already on it: say, “Hey, can I have a list of board members? I just want to reach out and give them a call.” And if they speak highly of it, I mean, that says to their experience, but if they’re not picking up the phone, then maybe it’s not the best opportunity to pursue.
There are so many nonprofits in Indy for every cause you can think of. It’s really a no-rush situation. But you can always ask to shadow a meeting, as if it were a job, say, “can I just come to a meeting and see if it’s for me?” I wouldn’t commit to a board without doing some vetting beforehand. Just know that there’s a lot of different kinds out there. So even if you have a poor experience, or a really good one, it might not mean the next one is the exact same.
If I wanted to join a board, and I don’t really know where to start, what would you say would be the first place to start looking? And how do you go from: I’m volunteering with this organization, I am passionate about their mission and their work to: I’m on the board?
I think there’s a couple of approaches you can take.
The first approach is, let’s say there’s a cause you’re really passionate about, and let’s say it’s in environmental efforts. So I would probably say get started volunteering at something in that space. Go a couple of times. And if you like the organization, I would start networking with people who work there and inquire, say, “I’m interested in being on the board.” You have to make it really clear that you’re going to be in Indy for the next year. I think that’s something— you don’t want to join a board and then move—most board terms are one to three years, typically two to three. So it’s definitely a commitment.
And then I would inquire upfront what the commitment looks like: is it quarterly meetings? Monthly? How many events do I need to do in the year? How much money do I need to fundraise? Some boards, you have to pay dues. But if you’re a young alumni like myself, you can try to ask your way out of that by saying I’m gonna go to three events instead of two.
Secondly, I would say networking events. When you’re going to networking events, and let’s say, you already talked about work, you already talked about Orr, say “hey, what do you do in the community?” or “do you sit on many boards? That’s something that is in my goals.” “Is there anyone you can connect me to that is on a board who can refer me?” So another way is through networking events.
And then third, I’d say use assistance from places like United Way–you can always reach out to them because they are the kind of help desk for nonprofits to find talent like us. Nonprofits are going to United Way and saying, “Hey, can you help us find a new young board member?”
Most places are looking for younger people, because a lot of people are retired and they just need diversity. Everyone’s looking for more fresh perspectives. So I’d say going through something like United Way would immensely help you make the first step.