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Plugging your Purpose into Your Community

Brianne Sanchez headshot

A Note from Sarah: Today’s guest writer: Brianne Sanchez, MPA, Director of Nonprofit Relations at the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. Our paths and names had crossed a number of times, but our first deeper conversation happened when I was partnering with Brianne for a workshop. We bonded over a number of topics and I’ve continued to be impressed with her commitment and passion for community involvement and leadership. She inspires me to give back and I hope you too!

I’d consider myself a purpose-driven professional. I like doing work that I see moving a meaningful mission. And I’m not alone: Research indicates 70 percent of Millennials say a company’s commitment to its local community would influence their decision to work there. 

Fortunately, I get to live out my purpose at my dream day-job, connecting nonprofit organizations with resources. But if you’re badging into a large corporation, or living the freelance hustle or small business life, you can plug into purposeful leadership opportunities that have important impact by serving on the board of a nonprofit organization. 

Before you leap into a new commitment, though, you’ll want to make sure you can sustain it longer than last year’s resolution. Here are some ideas for exploring the right fit:

Focus in on a cause you care about.

ntentions like “getting involved” and “making a difference” are so vague and huge that they can be overwhelming. Without specificity, it’s hard to get out of the dream zone. Zero in on your passions by asking: What local nonprofits are you already donating to, or volunteering with? What organizations have provided meaningful services to your family and close friends? What nonprofits are addressing an issue that’s connected to the work you do – like financial literacy programming, affordable housing, or environmental sustainability? 

Ask key questions to get to alignment.

Being clear about your commitment is critical as you step into a leadership role. What are you hoping to bring to the organization? Every board leader should plan to contribute as a donor, door-opener and doer by giving their time, talent and treasure to advance the success of an organization. This commitment means you’re putting the organization at the top of your giving list and prioritizing meetings and events over most other activities. What is the organization expecting from you? Do you know enough about the organization? What opportunities or threats does the organization have on the horizon? How are they currently funded?

Make a plan to make a difference.

Jumping into board service can have a learning curve. Think about starting out by serving on a committee, taking a tour, volunteering at an event, having coffee with the lead staff/board chair to learn more about their needs, reviewing the annual report and/or participating in a fundraiser event to get your feet wet.  We recommend new board members seek out a ‘board buddy’ or mentor who has served at least one term to help them navigate onboarding. Those experiences will provide you with important stories you’ll need for serving as an advocate for your organization. And, if you decide to serve, consider the resources you can leverage like any match giving benefits, grant opportunities or volunteer time off you have available through your company. 

Want to learn more? Check out the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines’ series of free, short (under two-minutes!) videos on the Basics of Being an Effective Board Member at desmoinesfoundation.org/onboard. Each comes with a worksheet you can download that helps you explore the board member responsibilities of Learning, Commitment, Fiduciary and Governance. (Fun fact: They were illustrated by Nathan T. Wright, who shares status as a supporting member of #teamSNoWCo)

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