Joining a Board the Right Thing For You? by Carlos Velazquez

This past weekend, I was thrilled to have been accepted to join the board of Pros Arts Studios, a wonderful Pilsen-based non-profit offering arts programs and events for Chicago youth and the community. It’s the first board that I will serve on.

I also was glad to hear that writer/visual artist Emmanuel Garcia was invited to be a board member. It’s inspiring to see the new generation of arts leaders becoming involved in the development of our established arts institutions. If you are not already on a board, and are an artist or supporter of the arts, I hope you’ll consider it.

Why join a board? Well, I made the commitment for three reasons: I was eager to support an organization whose mission and work was truly in line with my personal values; I wanted to become more aware of the financial and strategic planning that goes into running an organization; and to reiterate my previous paragraph, I feel more folks of my generation should be involved in the development of our organizations.

In these tough economic times, our art centers and organizations are counting on their most ardent supporters more than ever. Regardless of our feelings on the non-profit industrial complex, the framework of the non-profit isn’t going anywhere soon. New strategies and innovations brought forth from a new generation, though, would surely help strengthen organizations and better prepare them for the future.

The amazing Jan Masaoka, editor of the non-profit blog Blue Avocado, wrote a great piece on why and what you should look into in regards to joining a board. I like her emphasis on getting from the experience as much as you are giving and to consider it a step towards future leadership. For those of you already on boards, their archives are also a great resource. Some of my favorite points Jane makes:

Questions to ask yourself:

– Is this the right cause for me? Think first about the cause or issue, rather than about a particular organization. Are end-of-life issues important to you? Are you furious about tax policies and want to change them? Do you feel that the history of your Armenian community is being lost?

– What do I want to learn, accomplish, or gain from board service? You might want to seek out an organization where you can involve your young children in volunteer work. Or you might want to re-connect with your ethnic community, or get to be backstage helping on a stage production. Don’t be embarrassed about what you want to gain: these “benefits” are part of what will keep you committed, including building skills and experience in communications, finance, or group leadership.

– What do I need to make certain I do while on the board? ….If you don’t have a finance background but want to learn, ask to be on the finance committee. If one of your reasons for joining was to meet new people, be sure you volunteer for the annual luncheon or staff a table at the street fair. In short: don’t volunteer at the pool without ever jumping into the water.

Finding a board to join

– Ask your friends and fellow board members. Instead of waiting for them to ask you, ask them: “Are you on any nonprofit boards? Tell me about them.”

– Ask about board opportunities where you already volunteer.

– Post your availability on your Facebook page.

…Take the small amount of time needed to guide your community career as you have your work career. Invest your time and your heart in meaningful work.

Another article from Board Source looks at questions you should ask once you choose the right organization.

You ready? The Young Non-Profit Professionals network recently announced they are looking for new board members. Here is the link, applications are due by August 5.

And if you have any other links or insight in helping me on my new journey with Pros Arts, please drop me a line!

Carlos Velazquez is the Communications and Development Coordinator for Chicago Youth Centers. A recent transplant from California, he has over 7 years experience in the non-profit arts field, and is the graduate of the National Association for Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC)’s prestigious Leadership Institute and 1st ACT Silicon Valley’s Multicultural Artist Leadership Initiative (MALI) program. He currently writes a blog to share resources for artists and arts administrators called

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