How to be a young, nonprofit board member

You’re young – in your 20s or 30s. You’ve recently started on your professional path. Maybe you’re new to Austin. And you’ve decided that you want to get involved, but seriously involved – like at the board level. What next? 


Hal Meyer, Ronda Rutledge, Heather Davies Bernard, Heather McKissick and Abby Williamson

Hal Meyer, Ronda Rutledge, Heather Davies Bernard, Heather McKissick and Abby Williamson

More than 25 people attended the Greenlights Lunch & Learn event today at Leadership Austin, which included a panel discussion on the merits of young board members to nonprofits and what it takes to become one. Panelists included Heather Davies Bernard, a young, Sustainable Food Center board member; Hal Meyer, a young-at-heart Any Baby Can board member; Heather McKissick, the new president and CEO of Leadership Austin; Ronda Rutledge, executive director of Sustainable Food Center; and Abby Williamson, communications for People’s Community Clinic, serving as moderator. Mary Alice Carnes of Greenlights was hostess.

Here are some notes from the panel discussion. 

Fulfilling the financial commitment

The panel seemed to agree that having younger people on the board did not negatively affect the organization financially. Rutledge said that young people seem to be as connected as older board members, “They have so many people at their fingertips, and they bring them to the organization.” Bernard agreed, saying that when she sought out a board, the financial commitment was one gauge by which she would make her decision. “My husband and I are not yet in the position to write the checks we want to write in our hearts.” Later, Bernard brought up that social networking sites actually increased the number of her connections exponentially. 

McKissick of Leadership Austin weighed in, saying “I’m not underestimating the spending power of this group.” She noted that some young professionals don’t hesitate to spend $75 in one night at a restaurant.So that the financial commitments of board service shoulnd’t scare them away. (Comment from the crowd: “Hmmm, beer or board?”)

Both Any Baby Can and Sustainable Food Center ask board members to make a financial commitment, framed as a “give and get” – meaning the board member gives some and seeks out the rest in donations. At Sustainable Food Center, board members are responsible for $250 personally and $750 to “get.” Any Baby Can board members must raise $2000 in the same way. “We try to give them a number of ideas for ways to do this,” said Meyer.

Finding a good fit

McKissick offered a rule of thumb for young people trying to find their role on a board: “Don’t do your day job.”

“I think that some people assume that, because they’re an accountant during the day, then that’s what they should do for their board.” She said a person should instead consider taking on a role that matches an outside interest, say PR or leading a committee. “It works out great that way. They’re interested. They’re committed.” 

Bernard, the young board member, agreed. She told the story of how she first met Rutledge, Sustainable Food Center executive director, and went on and on about her outside interests. “Okay, I’m a lawyer, but forget about that.” 

“I had a sense I should choose something that would stimulate my other interests,” said Bernard. 

How to get on a nonprofit board

The panel offered a number of ways to get started. 

McKissick: “Apply to the Leadership Austin Emerge program! Find a way to connect with the community so that you learn more about what your passion is. What lights you up when it comes to community?”

Rutledge: “Attend a Greenlights board workshop. You can even attend a nonprofit board meeting. They’re supposed to be open to the public.” (GC suggests you contact the executive director ahead of time to politely invite yourself and express your interest.)

Bernard: “Talk to people. Look at Facebook and LinkedIn and get introduced. Then take that person to coffee and just pick their brain.”

Meyer: “If someone has never been on a board and doesn’t have experience with the organization, they should volunteer. It’s an excellent way to take that first step toward being on the board.”


Hundreds in Austin Shelter need your help now

Central Texas Red Cross just sent out an email asking for volunteer help in their shelters. This is a great opportunity to go over there and spend some helping out. 

We need shelter workers. 

Are you available????? 

Volunteers are needed for the 6AM – 6PM shift and for the 6PM -6AM. Volunteers are needed Wednesday, September 3 – Sunday, September 7 (Must be at least 18 years old).

To volunteer, please call 512-929-1200 or 512-928- 4271. Or email

Thank you in advance for serving your community! 

Kim Landry, Director of Volunteer Services, American Red Cross of Central Texas

I called and found out more:
1. Mostly they need support for their managers on-site. You would help serve food, answer questions, register evacuees, etc. 
2. Training would be “on the job” style. 
3. They need volunteers at the Delco location. See more about the shelters here. 
4. To volunteer, you should probably register online first. The site gives you the instructions. Once you’ve registered, they’ll call you. 
CenTex Red Cross will take calls until 7 p.m. tonight, but if you register online now, expect a call tomorrow. Thanks in advance for your help!

Does it matter which United Way you give to?

Speaking of United Way….

There are 69 United Ways in Texas, each with a different service areas, some of which overlap. It’s confusing. But it’s important to clear up because when you give to the United Way, you want that money to go to the United Way that serves the area where you live…right?

For example, the service area of United Way Capital Area, based in Austin, includes 10 counties: Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis, and Williamson.

And this is not to be confused with United Way Central Texas, which serves the Temple area.

Nor should it be confused with United Way of Williamson County, based in Georgetown, which also serves Williamson County.

And there are others. United Way of Hays County is based in San Marcos, United Way of Comal County for New Braunfels, and United Way of the Greater Fort Hoodarea based in Killeen. 

Oh, and there’s a United Ways of Texas, too, which is actually a volunteer association of Texas United Ways. Not to mention the national United Way. Oy. So to which organization do you give?

If you want to impact the area where you live, seek out the United Way that serves that area. I don’t think any of these United Ways are created to trick you. It’s just that serving communities with support for nonprofits that do good work is complicated, to say the least. More about this in the first issue of GoodCause.

What Austin kids should know by kindergarten – and almost half don’t

My 5-month-old daughter "reading"

My 5-month-old daughter

On the I Live Here, I Give Here site this month, the highlight is education. Here’s a disturbing number:

The sad truth is that a whopping 40 percent of children entering kindergarten in our community – the majority of whom live in poverty – are 12 to 18 months behind developmentally.

I have a preschooler (and an infant, Olivia, picture above, “reading”), and since he entered daycare a year ago, my husband and I have done little things here and there to prepare him for kindergarten. As he is my first child – and I didn’t go to kindergarten nor would I remember much about it, if I had – I really don’t know what he needs to know by kindergarten. But we’re working on the basics: his alphabet, some reading, counting to 100, shapes, colors, science, calculus… (no, not calculus. maybe a little trig.)

So what does it mean to be “12 to 18 months” behind? What does being prepared for kindergarten mean?

One collaborative effort lead by United Way Captial Area is called “Success by 6,” as in six years old. One of their guidelines for success is a document called “Austin Vision for School Readiness.” It lists a number of emotional, intellectual and health goals for children entering kindergarten. Here are some of the skills children should demonstrate by kindergarten:  

· Children are able to communicate ideas, interests, needs, and understandings in their native language.
· Children can tell or retell a story that is read or told to them.
· Children know some songs and rhymes
· Children show an interest in books and are familiar with basic book conventions such as how to turn the pages of a book.
· Children recognize some environmental print, for example “McDonalds”
· Children recognize and name some letters
· Children scribble or pretend to write
· Children can distinguish between and label basic shapes: square, rectangle, circle, and triangle.
· Children can distinguish between objects that are the same or different.
· Children have basic understandings of size and quantity relationships – big/small, bigger/smaller, more/ less.
· Children can sort objects into basic categories by color or other common
shared characteristic.
· Children can count at least three objects.
· Children use their senses to describe and learn about the world.

So are you telling me that 40 percent of Austin children entering kindergarten next week do not have all of these skills? I don’t mean to sound so shocked nor do I mean to offend, but for those of you who don’t have children, I’m telling you: The pre-K kids I know have these skills. My son is four years old and he has these skills, and it’s not because he’s a prodigy. These are basic.

SO what to do?

1. Give money, obviously. One place to start is the United Way, which funds a number of specific programs – not nonprofits, but programs – with measurable results. Other things you can do…

2. Donate preschool level booksto Eastside churches, preschools, and libraries
3. Volunteer to read to kids at the library and People’s Community Clinic
4. If you know any struggling families or single moms with preschoolers and toddlers, offer to help the mom once in a while to give her more energy to read to her kids
5. Read to your kids.We make it a special trip when we go to the bookstore or library. Sam thinks books are a treat. He insists on reading at least three every night. We act like he’s a hotshot when he reads a word by himself (Most recent scary reading moment: him reading “Google” in the top-left corner of my browser window, over my shoulder.) We read the comics to him.

You get the idea. We’re not the best parents in the world, these are just the tricks that we use.

One more suggestion: Turn off the TV (after the Olympics are over). There’s stuff we can do, people!

Sept 3:Tweet-Up hits Food Bank next!

Those same crazy folks who brought you the Tweet-up Blood Drive are now taking aim at the Capital Area Food Bank.

They’re calling it the HAM-Up Tweet-Up, which actually does mean something. Wait for it… September is Hunger Action Month… HAM… Tweet-up is a meeting of Twitter followers and followees… so HAM-Up Tweet-Up.

Okay, don’t try to explain the name to anyone who isn’t online 20 hours a day, just tell them to mark their calendars for September 3 when something special will happen. The organizers are still working on what, exactly, but you know it’s gonna be good.

Sept 6: An irresistable bingo/shopping combo

Actual Domain PlayBingo shoppers in silhouette

Actual Domain PlayBingo shoppers in silhouette

You’d think from my post about Macy’s Shop for a Cause a few weeks ago I would be turned off by such events, and yet… I can’t stop posting about the shopping/giving combos coming up.

And here’s the latest: Buy a $25 bingo card – or, heck, by a few of them – and take it over to the Domain the Satuday after labor day weekend. Go from store to store getting your card marked (and maybe doing a little shopping, of course), then turn your blacked-out card in for a chance to win a $1500 Simon giftcard. Even if you don’t black out your card, you’re eligible to enter for a chance at a $500 Simon giftcard.

All proceeds from card sales go to the Center for Child Protection. (Great name. I don’t even have to tell you what they do, do I?)

The Domain PlayBingo Shopping Extravaganza
Saturday, September 6, 10 am to 6 pm
All proceeds benefit the Center for Child Protection
Buy bingo cards online now or at the event

Presented by Friends of Christopher Guild

Remember getting new sneakers?

Give $20 to Shoes for Austin and a disadvantaged child gets a brand new pair of sneakers? How cool is that?

When I was little, the first thing I wanted to do when I got new sneakers was run, run, run. Remember that feeling? I knew they were dorky and super-white, but they felt great.

That’s why Shoes for Austin is such a great cause. The charity gives brand-new, named brand athletic shoes to disadvantaged kids – about 8,000 in all – to motivate them to move. Every $20 donation means a new pair of sneakers for a deserving child.

Shoes for Austin

Shoes for Austin

Here are some ways to donate:

  • Give online
  • Give at any RunTex location
  • Eat at Guero’s this Wednesday, August 20
  • Stop by the booth at Blues On the Green, Wednesday, August 20
  • Eat at at Maria’s Taco Express, Friday, August 22
  • Go to the 2nd Annual Boots and Books Charity Concert with a live performance by the Band of Heathens. Scholz’s Garten, Thursday, August 21 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. $25 General Admission Ticket