Board Life Matters
by Melissa Sines (with Rebecca Southers)
“There’s just so much that’s wrong with the world – and with my community – that I don’t even know where to start.” I’ve heard this statement a lot. Okay, I admit, I’ve even said it myself. Some days, news of all the miserable things that happen in the world – natural disasters, poverty, discrimination, disease – stacks up, and the mountain of problems in front of us seems insurmountable, like Mount Everest.
Many of us throw up our hands in frustration, thinking, “It doesn’t matter what I do. Nothing will change.”
Well, I got sick of hearing – and thinking – that. About a year ago, a casual conversation started over greasy wings and tasty beers at our local dive bar turned into a call to action. My fellow Hood College grad and friend of 13 years Rebecca Southers, grants coordinator at the Ausherman Family Foundation, asked, “Could we start a giving circle for the rest of us?” I looked at her and said, “Now?” Yes, now.
Where does the Frederick Giving Project Fit?
Our small town already has a Women’s Giving Circle, a prestigious crowd of ladies whose members pledge a minimum of $1,000 per year for three years. We were priced out of that circle, and we weren’t ready to abandon happy hour for tea time – plus, we like to spend time with guys, too. Frederick also already has a young professionals networking group, but its narrow networking focus was not really what we were looking for, either.
Rebecca and I thought about combining the two – an affordable networking group for caring young professionals who are involved – or looking to become involved – in their community. We knew that a group of individuals could have a more marked impact on our local nonprofit scene than any one of us – with our limited budgets and busy lives – could have alone.
A Way Forward
As soon as we made the decision, we started our journey. The path has been winding, sometimes stalling, sometimes flying faster than our organizational skills, but always moving forward.
We began by mapping it out, getting our most concrete ideas down on paper. Then, we took a step back, distancing ourselves from the outcome, and made several lists: smart and involved people we wanted to brainstorm with; folks we thought could help us get the circle off the ground; and sources of collaboration and advice.
You know this already if you’ve ever worked with all-volunteer/no-staff organizations: it can be an incredibly… organic experience. There’s a plan, and then there’s what really happens. But, we’ve managed to assemble a team of passionate, forward-looking people. Local nonprofits and businesses have helped spread our message and have shared their input. I believe that without this support, without embracing an inclusive and empowering process, we would not have come nearly as far as we have – nor would we have the potential to go as far as we will.
A year after that initial discussion over wings and beer, we’ve created our donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation of Frederick County . We’ve got a budget, the key pieces of the leadership team in place, and a one-year action plan for marketing, recruitment of members, social events, and service/educational events. We just launched our website , have a regular newsletter, and have raised almost $5,000 that we hope will grow to approximately $10,000 by the time we make our first grant in late fall. We sponsor a social or service/educational event at least once a month, and we are fielding a well-costumed team in the local kickball league.
Ultimately, it’s not so much the plan as it is about the people – and if you’re having fun and doing good things for your local community, that message resonates on its own.
We Can Change the World
“These problems are too big for me to fix – I can’t make a difference.” That’s just an excuse for not trying anything, not risking anything. People say it’s the curse of the young to believe that we can change the world – but maybe it’s the curse of the old to stop believing it. Philanthropy does change lives, it has an impact, and it does make a difference. WE can change lives, have an impact, and make a difference. Our giving circle is creating a network of young people to support each other and our local nonprofits while producing a little good-natured mayhem. Mount Everest is looking a bit more manageable these days.
Board Life Matters, a BoardSource project, is a national sounding board designed to inspire and engage the next generation in nonprofit board service.
BoardSource is dedicated to advancing the public good by building exceptional nonprofit boards and inspiring board service.