Leadership in Your Community: How to Choose the Right Organization

Claire SaltmarshThis past summer, Saltmarsh brought in several community leaders to share their experiences in leadership, how they got involved in their organizations, and the benefits of community leadership. One of the common themes among the presenters was to make sure that each person takes the time to find the right organization to become involved with, as each organization has their own individual benefits.

As a young professional moving back home to Pensacola over a year ago, I’ve had the opportunity to start from scratch in building my community involvement. Thankfully, I’ve found the community to be welcoming and appreciative of young professionals wanting to get involved. In fact, I would take it further to say the community truly embraces new and young professionals trying to make their way.

Initially, I was selective and slow to begin because I knew of the serious time commitments, and I wanted to make sure I found my fit before jumping into every opportunity. This allowed me to find the right fit for me, which in turn helped me to sustain effective involvement without fear of burning out. Below are the pieces of advice provided by others that impacted my choices in determining where and how to get involved.

1. Find your Passion

I chose this to be first on this list because finding what you are passionate about is imperative to being effective in any organization. You need to genuinely care about the organization, what it stands for, and how it is helping the community. There is no sense in wasting your time and energy getting involved in an organization that you are not passionate about. Leadership in your community should really be translated into service to your community. Of course, any time commitment has the potential to be tiring, but find what makes you the good kind of tired. So, where do you have a desire to serve?

2. Take Time to Find your Fit

Finding your fit means doing a little research on what the organization’s goals, accomplishments, and purposes are. What have they accomplished in the past? What are they looking to do in the future? These are a few questions to ask yourself when finding where to get involved. Can you fully support the organization’s goals, accomplishments, and purpose? If so, then you’re off to a good start. If not, keep looking for a better fit. No fit will ever be perfect, but it’s important to make sure that your goals align with the goals of the organization.

Finding the right fit also means finding the right personality. When volunteering with a civic organization or acting as a board member, you’ll find yourself spending a significant amount of time with the fellow members. It’s important to look at who is involved. Can you grow from them, and will they be positive mentors?

NOTE: it is not a bad thing if you do not know any of the members and therefore do not know the personality of the organization. In this situation, you would have opened yourself up to an entirely new network of people. It may be out of your comfort zone, but it will be well worth the growth both personally and professionally as you make new connections. 

3. Balance your Priorities

Getting involved in a new organization is a time commitment whether it meets quarterly, monthly, or weekly. While it is always time well spent, it often means time away from family and friends. Community commitments can even interfere with work at times. It is important to weigh your priorities and make sure you have an appropriate amount of time to give to the organization.

It is better to go into the organization knowing practically how much time you can commit, than to overcommit and underdeliver. If you are only going to half of the meetings, are you really serving to your full potential? It is better to be effective and fully engaged in a handful of organizations than to be involved in many yet only partially present.

4. Learn to Say No

Remember that No is a perfectly acceptable answer. If the above thought processes lead you to determine that the organization does not fall within your passions, is not the right fit for you, or does not allow you to keep your priorities straight, then no is OK. As someone who hates to say the word no, I have found that people understand completely when you must decline. The word no can be said without burning bridges if you say it politely and with sincere gratitude.

Example: This very blog is one! With deadlines approaching and added workload, I had to tell our Marketing Department, “No… right now, but I can later.” Needless to say, they were more than happy to work with me on a schedule for writing this blog that was mutually beneficial to both parties.

5. Don’t be Afraid to Say Yes

On the other hand, when presented with an opportunity that is a slightly outside of your wheelhouse or stretches you a bit, don’t be afraid to jump in. One of the perks of working at Saltmarsh is that you are surrounded with highly qualified professionals who are willing and happy to teach and support you in arriving at the next level of knowledge. You are not alone on the journey, and you have a team standing behind you to make sure you serve to your full potential in an organization.

As long as you are not getting in over your head, it is healthy to jump feet-first into a new and challenging scenario. This allows you to grow your professional network, problem solving abilities, technical skills, and overall confidence as a professional. So, never be afraid to say yes when the right opportunity presents itself!

Claire Poirier, JD