TYPros, LT Get on Board

It has been said that a society can be judged on the basis of how it treats the least among it.
If that is the case, Tulsa, with roughly 4,200 501(c)3 not-for-profit organizations registered by the IRS, is certainly ahead of the curve.
A non-profit organization requires leadership like any other business — perhaps even more, since the 501(c)3 classification requires a board of directors. That is where TYPros and Leadership Tulsa’s board internship program comes in.
According to its Web site, Leadership Tulsa began as a joint venture of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and the Junior League of Tulsa. In 1973 it was incorporated as an independent 501(c)3 non-profit corporation.
Wendy Thomas, executive director of Leadership Tulsa, said the program was started as a way for business people to learn more about Tulsa, and to learn how to make their communities better places in which to live and work. The board internship program, Thomas said, was an offshoot of that mission, a result of the need for leadership in Tulsa’s enormous non-profit community.
“Tulsa’s non-profits are second to none,” she said. “I like to say that Tulsa is America’s most generous city; that includes volunteerism, philanthropy and some of our great family foundations who lead the way, but it also includes everyone who makes a contribution to their office’s United Way campaign or who gives at church.
“We kind of decided that since Tulsa had such a strong non-profit community, to partner with them to get new blood, new energy and new ideas into their boards. If you get several people that are trying to serve on five, six or eight boards they’re not going to be effective. We need to be feeding them leadership.”
Tulsa’s Young Professionals joined the mix several years ago after members of its leadership went through the Leadership Tulsa program.
“Several of our members had gone through Leadership Tulsa, so when we started talking about a board internship program, instead of reinventing the wheel, it made sense for us to collaborate with them,” said Karisha Arnett, VP of business development at Arvest Bank and 2009 TYPros chair. “They already had the system perfected.”
Thomas said non profit boards had also been looking at TYPros for leadership.
“Boards of directors were at the same time particularly looking to reach out to the young professional population, which had really become such an important force in the community,” she said. “They also saw that those people had great networks, a great knowledge of technology and new insights, and so we agreed to partner with TYPros to replicate our board leadership program.”
The privatization of social services is uniquely American, according to Thomas.
“Almost since the founding of the nation, we have created these associations to give us control of our communities,” she said. “In other countries, they haven’t had the volunteer sector like we have; they are only now starting to develop it.
“Most of the non-profits we work with are 501(c)3 organizations, which means that they have gone to the IRS and received tax-exempt status. The IRS actually gives up money from those organizations on their business dealings as well as giving up money when you or I make a contribution to those organizations. So the government is giving up these huge sums of tax revenue, saying, ‘We think you all have more knowledge and more power to do good in your communities by yourselves than if you waited for the government to do it.’ It’s a way we exercise that American brand of self-determination.”
Lynn Conard, senior director of development for the U.S. Beef Corp. and an outgoing board member of Operation Aware, said Tulsa has a rich history of giving.
“Tulsa in particular had a lot of philanthropic leadership early on because you had a lot of people who came here who understood that a city is better if you have an opera and a ballet and if you clothe the needy and feed the poor, so there was a strong culture of that since the very beginning,” Conard said. “As generations passed and the town got bigger, there was more leadership for that. And we’re proud of that history of giving, I think.”
Thomas said the expectations of an NPO board member can be boiled down to three points: time, talent and treasure.
“When you are a board member, and especially if you’re going to be a great board member, you really are expected to step up to the plate,” she said. “Your time is the most important thing and really sometimes the most difficult. We lead complicated lives. We have work expectations and family expectations. If you can’t be physically present at those meetings, and not only present but prepared, you can’t be an effective board member.”
Talent, Thomas said, is about finding what gifts one has to offer as a board member.
“We have them kind of look inside themselves, because it’s not just enough to be there to vote yea or nay on the minutes or the financial report,” Thomas said. “You really are trying to bring something of value to the board. We have them do some self reflection and think, ‘What am I really good at? Am I good at events? Am I good at organizing? Am I a numbers person? What can I bring to this board?’ Then we help them find a place to plug in.”
Last, Thomas said, are the fiscal responsibilities.
“Then we have treasure,” she said. “We talk about the financial expectations of board members. That varies from board to board, but they are going to want to know what they are before they become a permanent member of the board. What is a meaningful gift for you and me is different for someone else. We do ask that if you are serving on a board that it be in the top handful of organizations you give to.”
Not all financial responsibility rests on the board member’s shoulders, Thomas said.
“We ask, ‘How can you involve your network?’” she said. “Can you bring your friends to events to help support your organization? Do you have a connection at your company that can help support your organization?”
One of the most remarkable parts of Leadership Tulsa and TYPros’ board internship programs, according to Thomas and Arnett, is the extent to which participants have continued to serve the boards on which they were placed.
“I would say about 50 to 60 percent of our interns will stay with the organizations they are assigned to, and then 80 or 90 percent say they want to continue serving on some sort of board service,” Thomas said. “There’s going to be a small group that decide serving on a board isn’t the best way they can contribute, that there are other ways they want to volunteer.”
Carolyn Stewart, a Leadership Tulsa graduate wrapping up her sixth year on the board of LIFE Senior Services, has not only served the longest allowable term on the organization’s board, but has served as board president in the past and this year as chair of the organization’s biggest fundraiser.
“I’ve been to other leadership programs, and you went through the workbooks and you get through the program and you’re done, but with Leadership Tulsa’s program you keep going,” Stewart said. “I never would have imagined myself serving on a board or being in any leadership position, and now I’m their biggest cheerleader.”
Likewise, Conard has served her full six-year term on Operation Aware’s board, and has been president in past years.
Seldom in life are there transactions that are truly beneficial to all involved, but the board internship program, at least according to its leaders and participants, is one of them.
Josh Herlan, a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch finishing his first year as a board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters, said he sees board membership as a way not only to serve the community, but to establish himself in that community.
“To me, the value of being on a board is that you get to meet other leaders in the community, and get yourself established in the community and to get involved,” he said.
Thomas said the benefit to one’s self and one’s business is not to be overlooked.
“Yes, I think it’s the right thing to do, but I do this because I think that it’s fun,” Thomas said. “And it’s good for business, too. It’s one thing to do business networking, but when you’re out there working shoulder to shoulder for something other than yourself, when it’s time to turn around and select who you do business with, you will often times go with someone who you have gotten to know through that experience.”
Arnett sees the benefit as still more far-reaching.
“The true leaders that you see in Tulsa are the people who you see being active in the community and making Tulsa a better place,” she said. “That’s the benefit I see of being on a board; it puts you up close and personal with what the board is doing, and that way you get to learn how it makes its decisions and be a part of making those decisions. Our board internship falls under our Next Generation Leadership crew, and that is exactly what that crew is designed to do, is to bring up the next leaders in Tulsa, to train our members to be the next CEO, the next Mayor, to become the heads of the city in the future. We feel like this program helps train them to do that.”

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