Thursday, October 14, 2010

Community Leadership and Serving Your Nonprofit Mission


Last week my time was completely eaten up by an event for a small nonprofit, which was why there was no new post. The to-do tasks came together like rain-swollen rivers at a confluence.

I was in charge of printed materials and signage and when I’ve done this stuff in the past, I generally have a few weeks to get it all together. This time, I pretty much got my marching orders on Tuesday with the event on Friday.  I spent hours on writing copy and creating graphics for sponsor signs and silent auction items, directional signs and bid cards. Then more hours printing and correcting. Then running for Kinkos to get the posters enlarged, putting the table-top signs together with self-adhesive easel backs. And helping get the room staged, working the event, then breaking it down. It was CRAZY.

With that kinda whine, you might think that this post is going to tell you something about the process, and how it could have been improved, but no. It was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants event and I'm usually not in favour of a lot of improvisation at fundraisers. But I'm glad I helped with this one, and I'd do it again because this fundraiser was for Leadership Santa Cruz County.

Have You Graduated From a Leadership Program?

Leadership programs can be found throughout the country. Many, like Leadership Santa Cruz County, were started by local Chambers of Commerce. Some are still affiliated closely with those chambers, though many – like LSCC – have gone on to become independent 501(c)(3) organizations. Their purpose is generally to help those who are interested learn about the challenges and opportunities facing their community and maybe find a place where they can provide assistance and leadership.

Many of the largest county employers as well as most of the local nonprofits and businesses send their staff through the Leadership program. For those that will deal with the public, serve their mission in the community, or run a business, there is no better place to learn how things work, who makes them work, and why they work.

Through LSCC, I became aware of and interested in the county’s advisory commission on emergency medical care and was eventually named by the County Board of Supervisors as the consumer-at-large representative on that body. Meeting and working with county physicians and nurses, disaster professionals, EMTs, Fire and Rescue, Public Health and Paramedics, I’ve learned a lot about emergency medical care and about the system that provides it in our community and I’ve had a tremendous opportunity to affect how that care is delivered.

The Curriculum and the Outcome

LSCC’s curriculum lasts from September of a year to June of the following year. Once a month, you give a day to classes, with each class revolving around a different facet of the community: Health & Human Services, Industry & Environment, Local Government, etc. Because it’s only one day a month, the agenda is crammed. It’s an intense experience, and you can’t help but come out of the class with a new understanding of all of the factors involved in making a community what it is. And how everyone affects that and is affected by it.

Small Nonprofits, This Means You As Well

In social media, we talk a lot about engagement. There is no point to social media without it. And, as has been shown again and again, social media engagement can result in quick action towards solutions on a local and global basis. Leadership programs, like social media, depend upon engagement. Without people willing to get involved in their community, the community can suffer.

Your small nonprofit doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it exists for and within a community. If you have not been part of a local leadership program, I strongly recommend that you consider it. In Santa Cruz, our local Community Foundation considers it a good enough investment for the future of nonprofits that they provide funding for it (the new E.D. of nonprofit I worked for was a beneficiary of such funding, which is how I heard about the program). Not only will you learn more about the community your nonprofit serves, but you may find new ways of serving it and more people willing and able to help you with your service.

Check out the leadership program websites listed below to get a more comprehensive idea of what they’re about, then check with your local Community Foundation or Chamber of Commerce to see if there’s a leadership program in your community. If the program’s anything like the one I went through, you may find yourself one day stretching yourself to the limits on their behalf and happy to do so.

Note: I wasn't alone on that crazy raft - Dave, Diane, Ed, Ellyce, Lorrie, Piret, Sharrolyn and Taylor were there, paddling like anything. It wouldn't have happened without you guys, let alone have been a success. Leadership SCC is all the better for you.

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