Non-profit work can change your life and your career

The second half of this post was originally published in 2012.  The new content is at the top.

In 1990 I was part of a trio of volunteers who began work on bringing a YMCA in the community where we lived, Springfield, TN.  We could have never known how those seeds would flourish in the years to pass.  On July 28, 2016 the Robertson County YMCA will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a gathering at the facility in Springfield.  I am honored to be part of this event and I can never fully describe how much this experience changed my life.  The photos below will show you a glimpse of what the facility and staff looked like in 1996, but the real changes have come in the lives of so many who have experienced the Y since that time.  The changes in my life, many due to this experience, are many and I would not be performing my current role without the experiences I gained during this time.  Let me share a few of the key things I learned:

  • Building a team of committed volunteers
  • Rallying a community around a cause that was bigger than any one of us
  • Bringing diverse groups together for the betterment of the community
  • Developing relationships that would last a lifetime
  • Understanding what giving really means
  • Encouraging others to invest in a long-term project

It gives me great satisfaction to see how this event has become a watershed moment for so many.  You will never know how a non-profit experience will benefit you without "taking the plunge" yourself.

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I recently added a short post to my blog about my past year as president of the Franklin, TN Breakfast Rotary Club.  This group of men and women is indeed a special group and I can honestly say that I took much more from my experience than I will have ever given.  While that may sound bad I can also say that every good role I have fulfilled in a similar organization has resulted in the same feeling.  My thinking is that those who work hard and do what it takes will always feel like they have gained more than they have given.  I think this also shows a good sense of humility.  Enough on this, let’s talk about Rotary.

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Our Rotary Club has been in existence a little over 20 years and we still have several of the charter members with us.  We have one substantial fundraiser every year and it provides the resources for our club to fund a number of very worthy local and international projects.  As the president of the club I presided at every meeting except for a handful of them where I was out of town.  We meet once per week, every Wednesday morning for one hour at the Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin.  Even the venue weaves into the story this year.

Many civic organizations have an ongoing battle with retaining membership.  We are fortunate that we are stable and growing slightly.  A number of factors enter into why this is, but here are the key reasons in my opinion:

  • We don’t take ourselves too seriously
  • We Have Fun
  • We make a difference in what we do
  • We keep busy
  • We try to do different things
  • We are taking the time to get to know one another better

This past year has been a watershed year in a few respects.  We lost a member, Jerry Boss, to death, but not even his death will remove his memory and his contribution from our midst.  His wife, Peggy, has joined us as an honorary member and we both benefit from this.  We also lost a former member, Chuck Clarkson, to an auto accident.

We had our share of positives moments and challenges as the year moved by.  As the president of this club I learned a few things that I will carry with me in my life, both personally and professionally.  Here are the keepers:

  • People say things they don’t always mean
  • Some people need more attention than others
  • All people need some level of recognition
  • Most people will get involved if you ask for their help
  • It is hard to “un-say” something you say to an entire group
  • My best opinions are those I keep to myself

This list has story after story to tie with it, but most of these stories are left unspoken.

Life is a classroom and you have to pay attention if you want to grasp the meaning of today’s issue.  No issue is too small nor is any too large.

Being the president of a Rotary Club was a fun, frustrating, challenging, rewarding and satisfying experience.  Leadership is the same way.  Find me a leader who is not challenged or frustrated and I’ll show you a leader who has not been tested.

Non-profit work and volunteer work can be a great way for most of us to further refine and hone our skills.  Don’t take this for granted.