Like many of you who’ve been working for more than a decade or two, I’ve been serving on boards of non-profits and charities for many years. From the Niagara Symphony Association and the Mackenzie Printery, to Highland Business Women and Toastmasters, it’s given me a chance to help an organisation that typically wouldn’t be able to afford to hire me by sharing my expertise on a pro bono basis.
Two years ago I was elected to the committee of Highland Business Women, as the organisation was nearing its twentieth anniversary. Although meetings — which mixed a social element with some professional development — seemed relatively well-attended, many who attended weren’t members, I learned.
Growing membership became my goal, along with raising awareness. I seized the opportunity to invite the women I knew who should be attending meetings, to come along as my guest. I also put my PR skills to work doing media relations, creating content for the website, and helping with the Facebook page. We got coverage in the local papers, people were interested in joining the group, and I even interviewed a few members on my radio show, Dessert Highland Discs!
In April 2016 I was elected Vice President, and already, the change was evident. Membership had grown, and the buzz at meetings was even greater. Working with a great team, we continued to take turns planning and running monthly meetings and occasionally, we hosted two meetings in a month. Attendance continued to grow, and — for the first time — some meetings sold-out, and we had to turn people away.
A year later, having achieved my objectives, I have stepped down from the board. Now with more than 70 members, my objective of growing the membership through a combination of personal outreach, and public relations has been a success. I also feel it’s important to make room for new people to get a role like this. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to develop new skills, particularly leadership skills.
I will continue to act as an ambassador for Highland Business Women, as I turn my attention outward. This weekend, I’m running for election as a director of the UK and Ireland branch of the worldwide organisation Toastmasters International. If I’m successful, it will be a demanding role, but one where I am sure I will be able to make an impact. Toastmasters has been a wonderful addition to my life, helping me to become a much better speaker, and leader, so it’s time to see how I can contribute.
In many ways, the work I did at Highland Business Women was a great microcosm of the work I hope to be doing at Toastmasters in the UK and Ireland.
I encourage anyone looking to stretch themselves to consider what organisation you feel connected to, that you can become more involved in. How can you put your professional expertise to work to benefit your community? The pay is terrible, but you may nevertheless be surprised how much you get out of it.