Want to Live Forever? Volunteer For a Board.

by Joan Garry

Forget about that Oprah Winfrey Weight Watchers commercial. You can park your tush in a board meeting and experience measurable change in your health.

I knew it.

I knew someday I would be able to make a bulletproof case for smart people to consider board service.

If only I had this in my toolbox back when I ran GLAAD.

Having a great nonprofit board is transformational. Too many duds, and you’ve got yourself a big problem.

Staff leaders and board chairs ask me all the time how to transform their boards. They complain about board complacency and inaction and how much it hurts their nonprofits.

I tell them they need to get more creative and strategic about board recruitment and that one big problem with mediocre board members is that when you ask them to suggest other prospects, you just get more of the same. You can’t keep fishing in the same pond. Instead, you need to think about new ponds in which to “fish” for prospects.

But that’s only part of the problem. The other problem is that we simply need more fish in the first place.

So it’s time for us to sell the value of board service. It’s time to change the thinking from “we need YOU” to “you need US.”

And now we have the best pitch to get those folks off of the sidelines and on to the field.

It’s a good one. Ready?


That’s it right there.

Forget about that Oprah Winfrey Weight Watchers commercial. You can park your middle-aged tush in a board meeting and experience measurable change in your health.

Not buying it?

The Harvard School of Public Health interviewed over 7,000 people over the age of 50 and learned that volunteers make smarter decisions about their health than those who don’t volunteer. They take better care of themselves!

Read it for yourself. (10 min read tops)

It seems to work as long as it’s not the only reason you volunteer. You have to genuinely care about the thing you’re volunteering for too.

Isn’t that awesome?

So why?

Perhaps you have figured it out.

Purpose in life drives health.


My 88-year-old mom belongs to the Amityville Women’s Club (yes, Amityville, and my mother is only occasionally a horror.) While it does seem that they go out to lunch quite a bit, there is also a very healthy dose of altruistic activities.

One year I attended the annual Philanthropies luncheon that raised money for a battered women’s shelter on Long Island. For a few hours that day, no one had aches and pains. Well OK, there was an open bar. But still.

The day was about raising money for a worthy cause. And it made all these women feel really good about their day. For the planners, it was a purposeful activity for a few months prior to the event day.

Little did I know that the work of the volunteers of the Amityville Women’s Club does is actually good for their health.

As long as they have designated drivers for the ride home.


Myth #1: Board Service is too time consuming. I need to use my free time to take better care of myself.”

Ha! Board service is way easier than an elliptical machine. Or counting points. Join a board and you’ll be getting more check ups, spending fewer nights in hospitals, and changing the world. Myth busted.

Myth #2: “You Have to Be Rich To Be On A Board.”

When I get out my unattractive soapbox at dinner parties attended by my peers of a certain age, people actually say this to me. Some of these folks are even more affluent than many successful board members I know (but I get that affluence is relative.)

Here’s the truth. It’s not about capacity. It’s about connections.

My dear friend Sylvia began as a kitchen volunteer at Gods Love We Deliver. Part of the Tuesday morning crew for decades. Still is. But she moved up the volunteer pyramid to board chair.

She does not have great capacity. On that criteria alone, she might not be cut out for board service. But she had passion and great ideas.

Many years ago now, GLWD renovated its kitchen. Sylvia suggested they “sell” the kitchen tiles in honor of friends who passed away, dedicated volunteers, etc. Not only did it raise close to $300,000, but it also creates an emotional experience for each person who sets foot in that kitchen.


Myth #3: “Board Members Are Just Human ATMs and Really Don’t Make a Difference”

If this is how someone feels, one of three scenarios are likely:

  1. She has not done homework to learn about the power and importance of board service – conceptually.
  2. He has spoken to someone on a low functioning board.
  3. She has spoken to someone on the “wrong” board. Here we define “wrong” as a board whose organization’s mission does not resonate.


  1. Think differently / Pitch differently

    Prospects need YOU as much as you need THEM. I know I know. You feel desperate, but desperation drives bad choices. Take your time and make the pitch in a way that recruits the best people.

  2. Be creative. Educate your sphere of influence about the benefits of board service.

    Good for your soul and now we know: Good for your health!

  3. Invest in an enriching board experience in your own organization.

    I heard the phrase “engage deeply” the other day as it related to effective boards. You need to define this phrase in such a way that benefits the board member and the organization and does not involve the use of the word centerpiece.Take a look at the interview I did with a highly productive, engaged and happy board member talking about loving his board. Grab some insights and implement them so these new healthy board members of yours who are fired up and ready to go will be able to engage from day 1 in a deep and meaningful way.

When I first joined the nonprofit sector, my development director told me “It makes people feel good to give to causes they care about.”

We can now take that one step further and it should be top of mind as you begin the (sometimes) daunting task of recruiting great board members:

It makes people feel BETTER to engage with causes they care about!


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