Day-to-day business keeps most of us so busy, we can’t imagine squeezing in anything else. But what if adding yet another meeting is a net gain? Serving on a public board or committee covers a lot of bases:
1) Being more involved in, and thus more aware, of local government roles and your community
2) Adding volunteering to your life by serving the public as a whole
3) Broadening your network of contacts to include other highly active people, and
4) Picking up new skills.
No matter your field or career stage, opportunities to serve on federal, state, county, and city boards, task forces, and commissions abound. Many are advisory; some include managing and regulation, hear appeals, provide expertise, advocate, and listen to public concerns as a conduit between citizens and government officials. Some are permanent; others temporary. All are meant to help shape and influence critical government decisions and services.
Could such service be right for you? Of course, the primary motivation should be interest in the subject matter and civic duty, but there are other benefits worth considering:
Visibility. Government related boards and committees tend to come with recognition. Appointments, posts and media reports of the group’s activities sometimes refer to the member’s business and other “hats.” People tend to see others who serve voluntarily in a positive light, sometimes seeking them out in business. Plus, it creates opportunities to network with professionals in other fields.
Learning. Many boards, task forces, and commissions touch substantive areas of law and business, as well as government functions. You may run a mattress store, but if you serve on a transportation-related board, you’re likely to pick up a lot about buses, transportation regulations, and community needs. Maybe you’ll help create a new park. On other boards, you might learn about the courts, art and culture, or major economic drivers such as the airport. Serve long enough and you may become something of an expert in a whole new area.
What you pick up may come in handy in other contexts. Government board service presents a great way to learn and establish expertise that may be instrumental to leadership opportunities and positions in related fields.
Increased leadership, budget and management skills. While these roles don’t generally come with budgetary authority, they do often discuss project finance or make recommendations. That expands knowledge of other kinds of budgeting and provides opportunities for growth and responsibility different from most private jobs. Gaining such clearly demonstrated, public experience boosts resumes and can be very helpful for career goals.
Building a reputation of integrity. Members of these boards and commissions are accountable to the government officials who appointed them, and at least to some extent ethically, to the public as their limited-purpose representatives. The sensitivity and accountability involved provide experience in such roles and good training for future career and board opportunities requiring that kind of integrity. Professionals who serve on government boards, task forces, and commissions demonstrate their judgment, ethics, trustworthiness, credibility and value — often publicly — as they serve.
Speaking of ethics, benefits aside the most important reason apply for a government board, task force, or commission is being truly passionate about the subject or helping your community. Because these opportunities affect the public, it’s a position of trust and commitment. And generally well worth the time.
To find opportunities call city, county, and public district offices or see their websites.
Now to lighten the mood a little:
What do you call a committee made up entirely of people named William? A Billboard.
My committee leader lost his position. Needless to say he was dis-appointed.
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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.