In recent conversations with newly minted law firm partners, I’ve noticed a sense of obligation to go forth, find a worthy organization and secure a “board” position. Many see their mentors and other senior lawyers in the firm serving on boards and view it as another box to check on the partnership career trajectory. Most law firms and many individual lawyers are generous in their communities and support pro-bono efforts as well as non-profit, civic and other charitable organizations (as they should). It can also be a great way to expand your network, build relationships with clients and prospects and enhance leadership skills. While I applaud the desire to give back to and support communities, projects and worthy missions, it’s often a significant commitment of time and resources. If you are thinking about getting involved in a community, civic or charitable board, keep these tips in mind:
- Be genuinely passionate about the mission. Don’t get involved in an organization that does good work just because you think it’s got the best networking potential. If your heart is not behind your service, the added responsibility and time required will become a “drag.” What causes do you really care passionately about?
- Be realistic about your available time and season of life. And recognize that your passions, interests and involvement will change with your season of life. If you have school-age children active in a million things, your volunteer time and dollars may need to be focused on a youth sports foundation, the Girl/Boy Scouts, the children’s theater, etc.
- Do your homework. Many communities have non-profit resource centers, community foundations and other similar organizations that have databases and other information about the organizations in your community. Review the board rosters. Talk to current or past board members about their experiences. Schedule a meeting with the organization’s executive director to ask about the expectations and financial obligations of board members.
- Try before you buy. Volunteer to help with programming, a specific project or a fundraiser to experience what it’s really like to work with the organization.
- Ask clients about the organizations they are involved with and the causes they support. Look for ways to partner together when there are shared interests. Involve your respective teams. It’s a great way to strengthen relationships.