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    Call to Service

    It’s not what you think. I’m not talking military service; I’m talking board service. Have you ever served on a non-profit’s Board of Directors? If not, I’m here to recruit you!

    Our LGBT community has a rich history and reputation for volunteerism and community activism. We get involved in non-profits because we want to make a difference, typically in regard to a particular issue or to serve a constituency that we care about deeply. In the process, we usually learn more about the issue and, at the same time, meet some really amazing and interesting people.

    In 1993, when Dixon Osburn and Michelle Benecke founded Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), they asked me and a half dozen other activists working on gays in the military to form the organization’s original Board of Directors. I was young and idealistic, and wanted to be involved with a mission I felt strongly about. I had NO idea what it meant to serve on a board, or what those responsibilities entail. I quickly discovered it meant determining mission and purpose, providing financial oversight, being a spokesperson for the organization in my city, and raising money any way I knew how. I wasn’t exactly prepared for the fundraising aspect – it’s hard to ask friends and family for money. But I found that many in my personal and professional network were incredibly supportive of SLDN’s mission and wanted to support me in my work on behalf of service members impacted by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). Plus, it gave an excuse to throw some very fun fundraising events!

    I served as Co-Chair of the Board for approximately 10 years between 1994 and 2011. It was an honor to be a part of an amazing organization that took a leadership role in the eventual repeal of DADT. One of the greatest benefits were the friendships I developed with fellow board members from across the country. Veterans, civilians, men, women, the L, the G, the B, the T and the straight allies, ranging in age from their 20’s to their 70’s, all united together for one purpose – to strengthen and lead an organization with a mission we wished to serve.

    So why should you consider serving on a non-profit Board of Directors? It is different than being a volunteer or a staff member. There is tremendous responsibility that comes with the opportunity – you are ultimately accountable for the organization and its ability to achieve its purpose. You get to select, support and evaluate the CEO/Executive Director. Often times you are asked to help raise funds. With these responsibilities come great rewards, though – a tremendous sense of pride when you get to meet the clients/customers/recipients of your organization’s services or products, the opportunity to meet like-minded colleagues you might not have met otherwise, and the chance to contribute your knowledge and expertise for an important cause.

    Choosing a Board is not easy. Some are governance boards that meet primarily to ensure the fiscal health of the non-profit, make decisions and provide priorities to the staff. Others are pure fundraising boards. For example, I serve on the Victory Campaign Board, which exists solely to raise money for LGBT candidates across the country.  And others are working boards, where there is minimal or no staff and the board members carry out the mission. This is appealing to those who want to roll up their sleeves and get directly involved. Whichever model appeals to you, I encourage you to check out the website for Bridgespan, an organization that provides services to match non-profits recruiting new board members with those interested in serving on a board.  Another tremendous resource is your network of friends. Ask them if they serve on a board. Do they like it? What do they like about it? What are the skills boards look for? The more you learn, the better chance you’ll have at picking the right non-profit for you. I hope you go out there and make a difference.

    Zoe Dunning is a retired Navy Commander and was a lead activist in the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She currently serves as the 1st Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party.