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Beyond lip service Featured

12:29pm EDT September 27, 2002
There are those who say the road to destruction is paved with good intentions. That may be true, but only if one's efforts are made without the necessary buy-in for achieving what awaits at the end of the road.

Simply put, if you don't believe in the goals of an organization, trying to achieve them is a futile exercise marred with dissatisfied efforts -- even if you have the best of intentions.

With this belief in mind, I met with the executive directors of two small nonprofit agencies as part of my goal to get involved with organizations where I felt I could help make a difference in the Northeast Ohio community.

Previous meetings with Shawn Nemeth and Alice Korngold at Business Volunteers Unlimited helped me narrow down my options to two Cleveland-based groups with missions that, on paper, seemed to be in line with my beliefs.

One is a neighborhood center that works primarily with at-risk families in the inner city, providing day care, after-school programs, social services and adult education. The second is a training center where basic manufacturing and operations skills are taught to low-income individuals and welfare recipients. Both were small enough that I felt I could help from Day One rather than be just another name on a list of trustees.

Nemeth and Korngold fired off letters to the executive directors, presenting me as a prospective candidate for their boards of trustees. Less than two weeks later, I received a phone call from Gerri Burns, inviting me to meet with her and learn more about the Friendly Inn Settlement. A week after that, Mary Davis of the Center for Employment Training (CET) called with a similar offer.

I met with Burns first, armed with a list of questions about Friendly Inn's mission, the people it serves and the involvement of its board.

But Burns beat me to the punch, laying out her organization's structure, programs, future plans and financial standing. She even shared her ideas of how she envisioned my role as a board member -- aiding in the development of an external marketing initiative to raise awareness of the Friendly Inn Settlement to the general community-at-large (a far different audience than SBN reaches).

We talked for more than an hour about what steps she and the board had taken in implementing its strategic plan and the underlying fundamentals of the settlement's mission. Burns also shared success stories, as well as admitting the challenges that lay ahead.

I appreciated her candidness. When the interview was over, she asked whether she could put my name up for consideration at the next board meeting. With no hesitation, I said yes.

One week later, I sat in the office of Mary Davis, executive director of the Center for Employment Training. Davis was prepared with similar information -- an overview of CET, its budget, the role of the board and a thorough description of the organization's strategic plans. She provided several packages of information that detailed nearly every aspect of the organization's mission.

After our interview, Davis led me on a tour of the facilities. She introduced me to students and instructors, and detailed her goals for the next 12 to 18 months. Like Burns, she had extensively reviewed the materials about me sent to her by the BVU and had a good idea about how she wanted me to contribute. I accepted her offer to present me as a candidate for CET's board of trustees.

By late September, I was elected to both organizations' boards and had volunteered for committee assignments -- the marketing/fund development committee at Friendly Inn Settlement and the annual fund committee at CET.

Next: Understanding board member duties and committee roles

Editor's note: Editor Dustin Klein is chronicling his experiences of involvement with Northeast Ohio nonprofit organizations. SBN will publish excerpts from his diary on an ongoing basis.