I had lunch yesterday with the acting board chair of First Place, a preschool program in the Central district here in Seattle that serves children whose families are homeless or at risk of being homeless. A high school friend of mine is the pillar and heart of the organization; it was through Dawn that I visited and became a fan of the program. And, like the pro-bono work I’m doing through the Seattle Foundation, I offered to give some consulting advice on fund-raising.
Conventionally, when you express interest in a non-profit — and especially if you’ve given money, as I did last year — the expectation is that you’ll become more involved as a volunteer or committee member, and then progress to a board seat. I get that, and why it makes sense. At the same time, I’m fiercely impatient with non-profit boards. I did a lot of board work at one point in my career, and didn’t like it then. I don’t like it any better now — mostly, because my tolerance for extended discussions about process quickly wanes. I have the temperament of an entrepreneur, and we are not big process people.
I approach non-profits with the idea of working with them as a “friend of …”, which is more ad hoc and episodic and a better fit with my make-up. But it’s not the way most non-profit organizations think, or a way of working that naturally appeals.
Sometimes it works and leads to a productive relationship, and sometimes not. The jury is still out on this one.