Transitioning a Board’s Mentality

I had a conversation recently with a friend and fellow board member for a local organization. We were talking about board culture and the difference between a “working” board and a “governing” one. We’ve been struggling with transitioning a “working” board to one that is more governing minded. Our big concern is that as we move away from one where board members traditionally did a lot of work to the opposite, that we’ll lose the board’s engagement and passion.

Currently, most of the board members lead committees of one so they end up doing all of the work themselves while the PR committee, which I lead has many members and traditionally holds several sub meetings between board meetings. The workload is split among committee members as well as myself. I take information from the sub meetings and report at monthly board meetings on key points of which everyone should be aware.

We’ve been trying to figure out why it is difficult for the other board members to not put together committees and minimize their work load while maintaining their engagement level. Could it be because PR professionals typically find themselves on my boards, committees and planning teams and learn quickly the value of spreading the workload around? I’m just curious if anyone has ideas or thoughts that we should look at as we help this board transition into the next phase.

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My Connection with MS

A little while ago, I wrote about making time to volunteer.  As I wrote there, I have chosen to maintain involvement in just a few specific health-related organizations due to the connection I have with each. One of those organizations is the MS Society. Tonight is the patron party for donors who have contributed to next week’s Uncorking the Cure for MS fundraiser. I was asked to speak briefly tonight about my connection with MS and thought it would be a good post here as well.

I was a junior in college when my mom was diagnosed with MS in 1994. Imagine being a 21 year old college student, living 1000 miles away from my family and having very little contact with them during a two week period in September of that year. I was terrified.

That entire summer, my mom was having trouble with numbness and we all thought it was a pinched nerve. She went to our family doctor as well as a chiropractor for treatment but nothing helped. In September, our family doctor finally said he wasn’t sure what was going on so he referred her to a neurologist in Tulsa for further tests. During her initial visit with this doctor, he chose to immediately admit her to St. Francis for additional testing.

The initial response from the doctors was one of two things: either she had MS or it was a spinal cord tumor. We prayed for MS. Thank goodness for her persistent neurologist who refused to accept the spinal cord tumor diagnosis and pushed for more tests, which finally confirmed she had multiple sclerosis.

Her doctor immediately gave her steroids to decrease the swelling. Just days after being released from the hospital she and my dad made a trip to Minnesota to see me for my 21st birthday. It was odd to have my mother, who had rarely eaten an entire meal at a restaurant having a ravenous appetite thanks to those steroids.

The doctor chose to start my mom on one of the ABC interferon drugs. She took that drug for about 10 years until she went back for one of her check-ups to be told that there are no new lesions since her initial diagnosis. After calling her his “success story”, her neurologist said it wasn’t necessary for her to continue unless she has problems.

Now, 15 years since being diagnosed, my mom continues to live with MS symptoms such as numbness and pain in her hands and feet as well as optical nerve damage which affects her eye sight. If you are not personally connected to her in some way, you would never know my mom has MS. Since the day she was diagnosed, my mom has chosen to live her life to its’ fullest, not letting her “minor” issues prevent her from enjoying her crafts and family activities. She says that the encouragement and support that we as her family have provided have helped her maintain her positive outlook. I disagree. She is a strong woman of faith and I believe her positive attitude is one of the biggest reasons the rest of us are able to support her so well.

I have chosen to become involved with the MS Society because I want a cure for my mom and best friend. I pray that her disease will remain in its’ regressive stage until there is a cure so she can hold her future grandchildren and spend time doing all the things she enjoys with them. I believe strongly that the money we raise can help fund programs and research that will allows families like mine to live a full life and dream of someday finding that cure.

Make Time for Volunteering

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

Ten years ago I started working for a fantastic lady named Melissa at a local public relations agency. She is an amazing woman who taught me a great deal about PR and the industry I have chosen as my career.  She is much of the reason I am the professional I am today and I thank her for that.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned from her is the importance of giving back to your community. From that point on, I’ve made an effort to continue that trend in my life. It’s also the one piece of advice I try to share with new professionals when given the opportunity.

If you weren’t aware, I live in one of the most generous cities in the United States. Tulsa has a reputation for giving and giving, even when the economy is suffering. This includes both corporate and individual donations. But it’s not just financial giving. People give of their time and talents, just as much as their treasures.

Finding the right organizations with which to volunteer can be daunting. There are hundreds of organizations out there looking for volunteers. I recommend stepping back and considering a few things.

Where does your passion lie? Are you a sucker for kids? Do you prefer working with the elderly? What about health issues? Take a long, hard look at exactly where you think you can provide the most support and look for organizations that serve that population.

Over the years, I’ve worked with organizations that serve children, elderly and everyone in between, but I started seeing my dedication dry up. I realized that I wasn’t working with groups that truly held my attention. The passion wasn’t there. That’s when I sat down and thought about what mattered most to me. I realized that my family comes first, and I wanted to figure out ways to best help people in my life directly. My mom has lived with Multiple Sclerosis for more than 15 years now. My grandmother passed away a few years ago from complications of Alzheimer’s after living with the illness for more than a decade. Multiple people in my life have faced diagnosis of cancer — some of survived, others have not. I realized that my time and efforts were best spent focusing on organizations serving these people and I have narrowed my non-profit organizations to the MS Society, Alzheimer’s Association and several cancer organizations. I found my passion.

Set up an informational interview. Once you’ve selected the types of organizations you wish to work with, set up time to visit their facilities and speak with the executive director. Find out how the money raised in this area actually helps the local organization. How are funds raised? What’s expected of volunteers? Some organizations expect board members to pay annual dues to maintain involvement, but not everybody is aware of this until they receive the invoice in the mail. Are their target amounts set for each volunteer for fund raising? Ask these questions up front so you’re not surprised down the road.

Then, get involved. If you’re going to commit to an organization, follow through. Non-profit organizations depend on their volunteers to thrive so to have someone join their forces and then not complete the task at hand is a let down for both the organization and the other volunteers.

Anything to add here? I would love to hear other feedback on volunteering.