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September 4, 2017 Community Connections

In times of crisis, Millennials, others must step up nonprofit support

Mae Maloney

As the state of Connecticut slips further into financial uncertainty and as Hartford contemplates bankruptcy, the organizations that provide supportive services for our community members are more important than ever. Nonprofit organizations, by principal and policy, are dedicated to the common good and deliver important services that would otherwise be the responsibility of our fiscally stressed governments or for-profit businesses.

Nonprofits provide emergency housing for families plunged into homelessness; many programs enhance children's education; other groups focus on ensuring marginalized populations are supported, while still others protect our green spaces and animals. Without nonprofits our communities would be vastly different, and I wager, far less valuable and rewarding for the people who live there.

As funding sources are reduced or even eliminated, nonprofits rely heavily on the generosity of volunteers for their time, talent and financial support. Without volunteers many nonprofits would no longer be able to provide these critical services. Some would cease to exist.

Individuals know that giving back to the community is important, not only to make their neighborhoods stronger, but also for their personal and professional development. Volunteering leverages and expands skills and networks and builds a sense of community. Each year individuals contribute their skills to ensuring nonprofits are supported. Millennials, in particular, are interested in and dedicated to community service. In fact, the Millennials Civic Health Index found that Millennials volunteer at higher rates than past generations.

 Community service can take many forms — serving as a mentor, building homes, serving meals in a homeless shelter. Serving on a nonprofit board of directors is a particularly powerful way to build professional networks, develop leadership skills and contribute meaningfully to the community.

Volunteer service can channel one's passion about a cause or community issue with which one has a personal connection into exciting and meaningful action. A board member of an organization focusing on homelessness recently said, “Serving on this board of directors has helped me feel excited to be involved in my community. I know that I make a difference, and I am proud of the work the organization does. I feel honored to play a role in the expansion of services this organization provides and am grateful for the opportunity.”

 I am a Millennial and have had the privilege of serving on several nonprofit boards. Most recently I served on the board of a small organization that provided permanent supportive housing for people impacted by HIV/AIDS. The experience provided me with an opportunity to expand my leadership skills and a chance to make a lasting and impactful difference in the lives of individuals and families who were associated with the organization.

During my three years on the board, the organization experienced periods of both opportunity and challenge. There were significant budget shortfalls and staff transitions. There were various crises to address, new programs and fundraising strategies to implement, and a new strategic vision to carry forward, which, in the end, included merging with a much larger statewide organization.

 Often people think that board members are all corner-office executives with deep pockets and powerful connections. While some boards do look for these types of candidates, most look for people who are passionate about the work they do and bring a willingness to contribute their best to the work of the organization.

Many nonprofit organizations are looking for Millennials to join their boards as they recognize this is a generation with fresh ideas, an understanding of social media and passion to make a difference. Others look for candidates who represent particular backgrounds, skillsets, socioeconomic differences and varying demographics.

Serving on a nonprofit board provides an opportunity to take direct action, make decisions, have ownership and contribute meaningfully to a community challenge. This community service takes volunteering to a new level that benefits the people organizations serve, the communities in which they live and the volunteers themselves.

This is a win-win-win needed more today than ever before. 

Mae Maloney is the program director for the Leaders On Board program at Leadership Greater Hartford.

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