Over the course of my career, I have served actively on eight nonprofit boards. Some of those organizations have had a pretty high profile, which enabled me to make some professional connections that helped strengthen my own business and expand my client base.
When people ask how I have grown my businesses, I often credit in part the community work I have done in the various cities I've lived. The follow-up question is sometimes predictable: “Do you have some suggestions for how I could get on some boards?” Um, yeah, get involved with the organizations you care about; get your hands dirty. That answer doesn't typically go over well, because most of the time the asker is looking for a short cut.
You see, the issue is the underlying motivation. The work I did – and continue to do – for nonprofits is not with the motivation to promote myself or my business. I genuinely believe in these causes and know that I have something to offer these organizations with very limited resources. When I say that I actively serve, I mean that I head and serve on committees, organize events, promote the organization in social media and with the press. I also contribute financially to these causes. At times, fellow board members have seen how hard and how well I work for these organizations, without pay, and some choose to hire me to do work for their businesses. I didn’t do that pro bono work to get their business; I earned their business by doing what I already believe in… and doing it well.
It is easy to get wrapped up in the idea of self- and business promotion. We strive to get our name out there, to develop a good reputation, to be noticed. Sometimes we forget that people are recognized for what they have to offer. By definition, that means what they can do for others. If an individual has great talent, experience and influence but does not use them to benefit others, there is little to recognize.
We can all do well by doing good. In other words, we can succeed professionally by doing good works for those in need. Call it Karma, call it positive energy; “what comes around goes around.” But if the underlying motivation is for self-promotion, that will usually become evident; and at times, that ends up doing more harm than good, to the individual and to the organization they have committed to serve. However, if the motivation is good – if someone is offering what they have for the greater good – success, however you define it, will follow.