I have two careers, you could say. The first is my business — Michael Stars and Lerner et Cie. The other is my philanthropic and humanitarian efforts. The thing is, they intersect way more than you might expect. The two deeply compliment each other and without their combination my career wouldn’t be what it is.
Having been involved with dozens of charities throughout my career, I’ve seen the incredible impacts and lasting benefits of philanthropy work. Monetary giving is rewarding, no doubt, but nothing quite parallels the fulfillment and success I’ve experienced — both personally and professionally — by involving myself with charities and foundations. The investment is time, the commitment is personal, and the reward is unprecedented. The thing is — I could work all the hours in the day, but if I weren’t able to pay it forward, there would be no point to me.
Which leads me to the leadership roles I’ve taken on in my life. I’m a leader with Michael Stars, and I’m also a leader in activism, particularly with women’s organizations, where I spend a lot of time and money. Many people come to me to ask how they can be in these leadership positions, particularly, on boards. Board work is rewarding, and it is also an important resume builder. There aren’t enough women on boards, and that is part of my life work too.
Serving on a board, or taking on leadership roles within philanthropic organizations for that matter, allows me to contribute to an issue in more meaningful ways; I’m able to dive to the root of an issue and to make impactful, real-time decisions surrounding the cause. It creates both purpose and power — purpose by giving my time to something greater than myself, and power by having the means to positively, intentionally catalyzing change for the cause.
Your business and career will be, undoubtedly, positively impacted by being on a board. There are definite business benefits from serving on a board, but those benefits come only with commitment and care. And as you start to step into the world of philanthropic leadership, it’s important to understand the groundwork of the board process to navigate it effectively. There’s a definite place — and need — for women in leadership, but it’s important to know what you’re up against as you approach board positions.
What to Expect
Being on a board is a tremendous honor, but it’s also a lot of responsibility. It’s a serious time investment. The term lengths are like leasing a car — three to five years. Be prepared to not only give your time generously (sometimes without a seeable end), but also to give your energy and presence, both physically and mentally. While creating real, impactful change is incredibly rewarding, it’s not without commitment, hard work and passion. It’s a lot of work, but it’s unlike any other I’ve done. The time you take, the energy you invest — it’s all for something greater.
Just as it’s important to block some serious time out of your schedule for a board position, it’s also imperative that you select foundations that you’re passionate about. Working with likeminded people is 100 percent more effective, and you really want to make sure that you’re ‘in it’ before you sit down to work with others who are absolutely ‘in it’. If it’s something you care about, you’ll never regret giving your time, resources or self. Our time is our most valuable and expensive resource, and there’s no greater compliment than donating it in bulk.
Getting on Board
Asking to be on a board is nontraditional, but it’s not impossible. Find a cause or foundation that you’re passionate about and go for it — get involved. If you want to get involved in an organization but don’t have one in mind, visit Charity Navigator or RYOT to find one that fits your passions. As with anything, the more experience you have, the more qualified you are. Thus, the more involved you get with your newly found org, the more qualified you’ll be for that board position.
My own personal journey to a board position started with an article that I had seen in Marie Claire magazine about Women Thrive. I was inspired, so I did what was within my means: I sent in a donation, one that I could afford.. I simply reached out to the founder and set up a meeting. No one knows you want to get involved before you reach out or show up. So reach out, show up, and get on board with your cause; before you know it the board will be asking you.
What Boards Have Done for My Business
Boards have been a powerful lesson for me on many fronts. From lessons on teamwork to running a more successful business, I’ve taken many personal and professional skills away from my board positions, including: working through financial statements and expenses, HR issues, strategies, greater camaraderie in the workplace, and much more. My board positions have not only rekindled my passions but also nourished them and helped them to grow and expand; I’ve been reminded why I give so much of myself and my time to charity and philanthropy — because they’re worth it.
So, I encourage you to reach out, to get involved, and to start small. The board positions will come, with time, but the start of change? That starts now, with you. Get passionate, get involved and get on board. You’ll be glad you did.