Access and Engagement Through Board Membership

Women smiling or a picture.

How did I become a member of five NYC nonprofit boards? Given my social work background and a personal commitment to “doing good work”, I have always served on advisory committees. However, prior to the mid ‘80s, I had neither thought about board membership nor served on one. My board story began when our sons were enrolled in Bank Street College’s School for Children. A small and lively group of parents invited me to join the Parents Association – a new experience for me.  Soon after, I was elected as the P.A. representative to the Bank Street Board as a nonvoting member, and later, invited by the Bank Street board to become a statutory trustee with voting privilege. Many of the trustees also served on other boards and as we got to know each other, I was invited by two trustees to join their respective boards. With this, I began my service on nonprofit boards.

As a board member, I am always learning. I learn about the mission of each organization and how the programs and activities align with those missions. I see firsthand how the issues and challenges for the organization are addressed through democratic decision-making processes, and how budgets are constructed, reviewed, approved and responsibly monitored. I now understand board governance, have become knowledgeable about the roles and responsibilities of board membership, and gained the wisdom that to be truly involved, a board member must serve on working committees. These committees provide wonderful and unique opportunities to interact meaningfully and develop relationships with other board members from different professions, ethnic, or regional backgrounds. For example, while on the Bank Street board, another board member and I would talk about the many programs in my division. Soon we were collaborating to revive a Bank Street tradition – the Long Trip, a program that takes graduate students across the country to learn about other cultures as well as social reform occurring in those regions. Thirteen Long Trips later, we still work closely and she is a dear friend.  Our 2015 trip in April will be to Copenhagen to look at Forest Schools!

Over these years, I have developed a real appreciation for the commitment and energy it takes to be on a board, particularly at Goddard Riverside. Members contribute their expertise or assume responsibility for specific areas like fundraising, volunteering, and events. At Goddard Riverside this means hosting Musical Evenings or participating with Book Fair events, among others. Because board membership is voluntary and there is no monetary reward for service, members’ involvement with such amazing activities underscore their commitment to their organizations’ mission and values.

As a board member at Goddard Riverside, I welcome our comprehensive approach to meeting common human needs, advocating for what’s right and to effect social change. I delight in the fact that Goddard has a program to meet so many needs, whether for children, youth and adults, and then, offers the arts to further enrich the community and enhance individuals’ lives. I also like the fact that one of our current board members had been an Options student who later graduated from Barnard and earned a master degree from Princeton. According to her, “Options allowed me to dream about college in a way that I hadn’t known was possible.” This is certainly Goddard’s impact at its best!

It is also my hope to inspire all young people – especially young people of color – to know that board membership is an option and to consider joining a board at some stage in their professional life. Everyone has something special to contribute, and with active participation, board membership can enrich your life experience while you contribute to a good cause.

Fern Khan, Board of Directors
Goddard Riverside Community Center