Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Community Involvement

As your rank and status improves within your company, you may be asked to volunteer your expertise and energy as a member of the board of directors of a charity and/or a community organization.
This request is a feather in your cap. Your company thinks highly enough of you to ask you to represent it in the larger community. It can also evolve into a situation fraught with pitfalls. It may be that your boss has friends or important business associates who are involved with the organization you are to join. In any case, you may be sure that the impression you make will be conveyed back to the executives of your company.
In other words, volunteer work can be an important career opportunity. Don’t blow it.
The rules of etiquette are extremely important in these situations. Remember that you will be dealing with people who may be quite different from your work colleagues. Some of your new acquaintances may be artists or scholars. Some may be wealthy dilettantes who dabble in organizations that foster artistic or charitable causes. They may include political figures or persons who represent the segment of the community that the charity supports.
Here are some basic guidelines:
  • Petty personality conflicts or political cliques within the board may distract members from the work at hand. Do everything you can within reason to make it clear that you will not take sides.
  • Be cordial but somewhat reserved in your relations with the other board members, at least until you get a good handle on how the relationships work. When in doubt, more formal is better than less formal.
  • As with company meetings, arrive on time and don’t dash back to your office before the meeting is over.
  • Do your homework so that the meeting will not be delayed while you are being brought up to speed.
  • Offer to help the head of the organization with contacts or access to special information.
  • Notice when something is amiss—such as inadequate computer support—and seek to correct it.
  • Always thank the volunteers who work in that organization, including the people who organize the benefits.
  • Remember promises made at board meetings and take on specific responsibilities by keeping good notes and following up with action.
  • Be a cheerleader back at your home organization. Speak proudly about the work your charity is doing. Nobody expects you to be a half-hearted volunteer.
  • Always buy at least two tickets to your charity’s benefits; buy more if you can afford them. Top executives of corporations are expected to buy a table as a corporate donation.
When you are on the job, you are on display. Familiarity can’t be allowed to breed carelessness; in fact, the necessity of spending a great deal of time with your coworkers demands even more attention to the details of courtesy and kind behavior.

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