Senior Editor Tanisha A. Sykes tells you what to consider when invited to sit on a board.
It was a complete shock the day that my colleague and friend, personal finance guru Lynn Richardson, called to say she was bringing MC Lyte to town to meet with me. I thought, “Cool, I can shake my tail feathers around ESSENCE as I introduce MC Lyte to our staff.” But when Lynn mentioned that a staff meet and greet and video (you know we love a 360 opp at ESSENCE) were fine, but not quite the intention of the meeting, I thought, there’s more? Could MC Lyte — the legendary lyricist and rapper extraordinaire — be coming to see little ol’ me? The answer was yes.
Once we had a few moments to ourselves, Lynn said how impressed she’d been with my career and that they wanted me to sit on the board ofaAdvisors for Lyte’s new foundation, Hip Hop Sisters Network. Wow. Even when you know you have a lot to offer, it is the highest form of flattery to be asked to sit on a prestigious board. After a couple of conversations and my own journalist-level research on the organization and its key players, I said yes. Why? Not necessarily because this phenomenal megastar that I had listened to, grooved to and looked up to had come calling, but more because The Hip Hop Sisters Network is a non-profit that is squarely rooted in bringing life and “lyte” into the hearts and minds of young women with a passion for the arts. “This foundation is about changing lives and truly encouraging several generations that have been and are influenced by hip-hop culture,” says MC Lyte. “Helping the younger generation see their strengths and potential are the goals for this foundation.”
Our first order of business is a new $100,000 hip-hop scholarship partnership that will enable one college-bound student to pursue a bachelor’s degree at one of the world’s top academic institutions, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The goal is to help scholars pursuing degrees in everything from theater and drama to science. Next up are the Soul Train Music Awards where the winner of the scholarship will be announced. In the few months that I’ve been a part of this organization, I’ve learned a few things that may help you as you consider sitting on the board of your child’s school, your church or even your block:
Give 100%. This advice came from a sage colleague who said don’t do it if you’re not going to give it your all. I’m a loyal and dedicated type of person, but I’m willing to put in the extra time, energy and effort into this organization. And when I believe in something, whether it’s this organization, my job or even my children’s education, I’m unstoppable.
Leverage your network. This is where your years of schmoozing, connecting and building relationships can be put to the test. Now, it’s your turn to call on those you have supported, whether you are asking them to make a connection, support an event or provide exposure.
Make your voice heard. As Black women, we are far too quiet when given a seat at the table. If you are given a seat, use it to offer thoughtful feedback, sound arguments and provocative fodder to propel your organization’s cause forward. Rely on your expertise and don’t be afraid to educate the people in the room about the value you bring. Own it for yourself.
Follow-up quickly. As a board member of a couple of non-profits, I’ve learned the hard way that not following up can be detrimental to the cause and the organization’s trust in you. If you’re a procrastinator, force yourself to do at least one thing on the list to keep the ball moving. Then map a plan to get the remaining tasks done at least a week ahead of the deadline. This will give you leeway for any changes that need to be made.
Don’t overcommit. There is nothing worse than someone who says “I can do it all,” only to fall flat on their face for taking on too much. Whatever you volunteer to do, do it well. There is no need to raise your hand every time a new task has to be done. Give someone else a chance to step up and shine.
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