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How to get a board seat, which can help open doors

Becoming a member of a board of directors at a local organization can open the door to myriad opportunities for young professionals.

For most, joining a board fulfills a desire to be an important player in moving the needle and invoking change in an organization. But joining a board can also translate into building strong networks and strengthening professional skills.

Taren Greenidge

Taren Greenidge

“When you’re on a board you get to meet people you may not have met otherwise, and you work closely with them,” says Taren Greenidge, attorney at Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete LLP. She adds that she’s gained many friends and mentors from her own participation on boards, such as the Urban League of Rochester, Dress for Success and the foundation board for Sisters of St. Joseph.

“Plus you get to learn a lot from some of the biggest leaders in our community,” she says. “What I’ve seen in Rochester is that the most impressive people are on boards or at least active in nonprofit organizations.”

Andrew Brady, president and CEO of The XLR8 Team Inc., echoes Greenidge’s sentiment that joining a board is a great way to expand one’s network into different industries, age groups and demographics outside of a person’s typical social bubble.

“You may even find business opportunities,” Brady adds. “I’ve heard of people getting so passionate about an organization that they end up joining that organization full-time. If you’re interested in working in the nonprofit sector, it’s a great way to start and see if the organization aligns with your passions and values and you can get a sense of their culture by volunteering with them.”

Andrew Brady

Andrew Brady

Brady, who sits on many boards in the community like Junior Achievement, Conscious Capitalism, Rochester Rotary and Rochester Young Professionals, warns fellow young professionals to not jump in too fast or spread themselves too thin. He says it can be hard to say “no” once a person becomes enmeshed with an organization, so a smart way for young professionals to embark on their journey toward board involvement is through volunteering or joining committees within an organization.

Directly volunteering with a nonprofit or dedicating oneself to a committee provides the opportunity for deeper understanding of the organization and allows for a more educated decision when it comes to making the commitment to join a board.

“Boards are trusted with governance and stewardship, so for those who are looking to have direct contact like mentoring, reading to a child or getting their hands dirty in community garden, that’s not board service,” explains Jaime Saunders, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Rochester. “Board service is strategic planning and fiscal responsibility and looking toward the future.”

Thus, it’s critical for young professionals to remain aware of their goals and what they hope to gain from their volunteer experience.

There are many routes and resources in Rochester for local young professionals seeking board experience. Greenidge suggests turning to organizations that are aiding the community in ways that align with one’s values and from there try to make a connection with someone on the leadership team or a board member and ask how you can become more active in the organization.

Brady acknowledges that young professionals often feel stuck and don’t know where to start when it comes to finding a board to serve on, and he affirms that “sending an email or stopping in to talk to an organization and letting them know you’re interested is key.”

He adds, “As a young professional, it’s important to be aware of what your skills are that you can bring to the table, and also being aware of whether the work you do during the day is what you want to bring into your volunteering. Make sure that in the long-term you’re not going to burn yourself out.”

Rochester Young Professionals teams up annually with United Way and the Rochester Community Foundation to host the board and volunteer expo. At this year’s event more than 300 young professionals showed up in search of volunteer opportunities from over 100 local nonprofits that participated.

United Way is dedicated to aiding young professionals interested in board service. The organization supports the Emerging Leaders Leadership Development Program, which is a three-day program targeting working professionals under 40 who seek to serve on boards.

“That program is focused on how to be a great board member, what it means in terms of governance, how to read a balance statement, how to contribute your skills, time, talent and treasure in service, as well as personal leadership growth and development and experiences,” says Saunders. “This is the second year of the program, and we have 35 participating, but we had double that amount apply, so we know YPs are hungry for this information and want to contribute and give back in meaningful ways.”

United Way also supports an online board matching service called CharitySTRONG (Strengthening Training & Recruitment for Outstanding Nonprofit Governance). Saunders describes the website as “LinkedIn meets Match.com.” The free service allows prospective board members to fill out a profile identifying their skills and interests in the hopes of finding a nonprofit with similar values and that are seeking volunteer efforts from someone with their skill set.

What young professionals lack in seasoned experience, they bring in fresh perspective and new concepts. Greenidge adds that young professionals are likely to bring in other young professionals to participate, volunteer and fundraise, broadening the scope of people with a vested interest in the organization.

“As we continue to build a greater Rochester, it’s important that our young professionals see themselves in Rochester as part of the change and part of what makes us a community,” says Saunders. “Our not-for-profits need that talent and support because that’s how we create the strong social fabric.”

Nsheldon@bridgetowermedia.com / (585) 363-7031

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