Who am I?

Editor’s note: Editor Dustin Klein is working with Business Volunteers Unlimited to be presented as a candidate to serve on the board of trustees at a Northeast Ohio nonprofit organization. SBN will chronicle Klein’s experiences through excerpts from his diary.

I’ve often thought I had pretty good self-awareness, an understanding of who I am, my strengths and weaknesses, and my interests.

But how often do you really sit down and take an assessment of yourself? When, outside of a tragedy, does it become necessary to break down your skills, passions and beliefs, then question each of them until you’re absolutely sure of the answers?

That is exactly what’s necessary when considering your involvement with a nonprofit organization’s board of trustees. I found myself questioning what it is I’m really good at, what ideals I believe in and in what types of organizations I’d be willing to invest my time and energy.

You can’t take getting involved with a nonprofit organization lightly. It’s about as different from a lazy Sunday morning round of golf as it can be. On the golf course, you can leave your “A” game at home and only your scorecard will suffer. But fail to follow through with a key task at a nonprofit, and the organization’s ability to serve its clientele or fulfill its mission can be jeopardized.

This is just some of what I learned from filling out the “Volunteer Trustee Institute Candidate Information Form,” the first step of Business Volunteers Unlimited’s process to match board of trustee candidates with suitable nonprofit organizations.

I breezed through the first page in less than 10 minutes, providing the basics: name, address, education, profession, employment history and previous volunteer and board experience. Then I turned the page to assess my skill set, and reality set in.

The assessment form is broken down into 10 sections: management, marketing, finance, insurance, writing and communications, real estate and facility management, legal, computer information and management systems, languages and “other.” Within each category, you’re asked to check the skills that describe your background, training and experience.

I quickly knocked off the obvious ones like media relations, public speaking, press releases and community relations. Then, because I’ve owned, run and helped start up companies, I checked off strategic planning, market research, pricing, retailing and budget and financial planning.

There were others I’d experienced, but as I put pen to paper I realized that just because I was forced to execute these tasks didn’t mean I was proficient at them. So I left many off. Why set myself up to fail? It’s better to know one’s weaknesses and stay away from them than to tread in areas where the chance of success is minimal.

This is a lesson any good business leader should understand from Day One. You must always be willing to ask yourself how you can be most effective within the organizations you’re involved with.

In the next section, I described the types of organizations that interested me. I checked off 21 boxes in seven of nine categories. It was difficult to accept the next part — that although my interests bridge numerous causes, I could choose only three as priorities.

I tend to drift toward groups with missions to create sustainable impacts within greater communities, such as welfare-to-work programs and furthering education, rather than single subsets of a community, such as drug treatment or disease awareness.

It’s important to recognize your interests and understand that you can still support causes you don’t want to be an activist for. Besides creating the greatest impact based on your experience and skill set, if you don’t believe in an organization’s mission or feel like you can connect with its audience, you won’t get the most out of the experience. And the organization probably won’t get the most out of you.

The three types of organizations I named as priorities were Family, Employment and Job Training, and Jewish. It was from this focused grouping — and my skill set and experience — that the folks at BVU went to work going through their files to find a dozen or so organizations that would be a good fit.

In my next entry, I’ll delve into the process of picking a small group of nonprofit organizations to be presented to as a potential member of the board of trustees.

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