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Why Non-Profit Board Service May be the Best Gift You Give Yourself (and your Community!) in 2021

Published on February 4, 2021 by Rebecca Testa / Board Member, Volunteer at United Way of Hunterdon County

While there are many words to describe 2020 (few of them flattering), the one the sticks with me is “rough”. Regardless of our personal circumstances, we were universally impacted in one way or another by the events of the last year. A bright spot for me, however, was my volunteer engagement with United Way of Hunterdon County (UWHC). It provided ample opportunities to connect, strategize, and problem solve with my board and committee colleagues. I got to share in efforts to provide immediate and long-term assistance to those most impacted by the pandemic’s economic crisis. And it occasionally got me out of the house! For me, volunteering with United Way smoothed the “roughness” of the isolation and monotony I experienced throughout 2020.

I’ve been volunteering for several years with UWHC’s community impact committee and programs, and in 2017 I was invited to join its Board of Trustees. I didn’t bring with me corporate or large business connections, a bottomless wallet, or board experience, but I did have some time to give, skills I was eager to share, and a growing passion for the organization’s mission and its impact in my community. So, with some trepidation, I said “yes”.

Three and a half years later, I am now the Board’s chair during a tumultuous, uncertain, and demanding time for non-profits. Charitable organizations are experiencing increased demand for their services and an urgency to their missions, coupled with barriers to raising the funds necessary to deliver. UWHC is no different – more of our neighbors are struggling to make ends meet, fundraising events have been indefinitely postponed, and our vision of a community where every individual has the opportunity to thrive has been made more challenging to achieve, yet more important to aspire to, than ever before.

Challenges make for amazing growth opportunities, however, and I can say that my Board service to-date has been filled with both. My fellow trustees and I are responsible for making sure UWHC lives up to its mission to improve lives and conditions and to advance the common good in our community. We must also ensure that our organization is worthy and trustworthy of our community’s support. That’s a hefty load of responsibility in the best of times. But with that responsibility comes countless rewards, some of which are:

A network. My professional and social circle has expanded tremendously as I find myself surrounded by colleagues who share my passion for our work and bring with them a diverse treasure trove of experiences, skills, expertise, interests, and connections.

Leadership experience. While I’ve led teams, committees, clubs, and even a small non-profit organization throughout my personal and professional life, there is no experience quite like (or as rewarding as) leading a team of smart, busy, willing, and impassioned volunteers with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to strategize on the most effective and impactful ways of investing donors’ dollars in creating real positive change in the very community in which we live.

Story-telling skills. I am not a naturally skilled story-teller. However, as a volunteer for United Way, I get to see, hear, and experience real stories that break my heart, inspire me, and both question and restore my faith in humanity. They are stories that need to be heard to ignite action, and I find myself eager to share them and growing more skilled in their retelling.

Health and Happiness. Really! Giving feels good, and I derive intense personal satisfaction in sharing my gifts to support causes, programs, and initiatives that are important to me. Because I get the opportunity to do everything from schlepping loads of holiday gifts and school supplies to strategic planning and reviewing financial statements to charity racing and event planning, volunteering with UWHC keeps my body and my brain happy and healthy.    

As I was preparing to write this blog, I realized that there is already much written espousing the rewards associated with nonprofit board service. Was it really necessary to add to that vast library a piece written by the chair of a small local non-profit? Maybe… If it inspired just one reader to gift themself with volunteering for a local non-profit (or better yet, United Way of Hunterdon County!), then yes, it was necessary.

For those on the fence or perhaps looking for additional inspiration, please read “10 Reasons to Join a Nonprofit Board” - a blog from my favorite nonprofit leadership guru, Joan Garry. If I didn’t inspire you (remember - I’m still working on my story-telling skills), Joan most certainly will!