Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Getting involved in philanthropic causes can give you a career boost, widen your network and let you contribute to something your passionate about, all things that make it worth finding the time, according to an InnoTech Women of IT Summit Panel entitled “Discovering the Power of Philanthropic Involvement.”
Tamara Hudgins, Executive Director of Girlstart, Heather McKissick, CEO of Leadership Austin and Carrie Lewis, President of Austin Women in Technology were on the panel moderated by Amanda Justice, Chair of the Women of IT Summit.
This was the first year InnoTech has held a special summit just for women in IT.
All the panelists agreed that women seeking to plug in to a philanthropic cause should find one they care deeply enough about to happily make the time for. If the word “should” enters the equation, they haven’t found it yet. Hudgins, who started Georgetown’s backpack program to feed hungry area children, had to fight a local misconception that there were no hungry children in Georgetown, Texas. Initially, her efforts did not endear her to the community. Now, she said “I know everyone in Georgetown. It takes me an hour and half to get through a shopping trip at HEB.” Her passion for her cause drove her to act and the results were a wider network.
Lewis is not only leading a major overhaul of Austin Women in Technology, she dedicates a lot of her time to Starry, an organization that provides emergency shelter for children and teens. She and her husband hope to become adoptive parents soon.
McKissick found that she wasn’t more passionate about one cause, than any other. She was, however, passionate about the process of leadership development which brought her not only to Leadership Austin but to co-founding ATXEquation, an organization that seeks to identify and capitalize on what makes Austin Austin.
“If it feels like it hurts, you’re probably doing the wrong thing,” said Hudgins. “If it energizes you as much or more than the energy you’re putting in, you are doing the right thing.”
The panel agreed there is a tendency to aim for a key seat on the board of directors, but that’s not always the way to go. Sometimes it’s better to get a sense of the organization just by giving at a smaller level.
“Many IT people come to us and say ‘I don’t want to do anything connected to IT’ and that’s fine. You can paint a wall, you can give an afternoon,” Hudgins said.
People who are thinking of serving on boards should talk first to the executive director and other board members to get a sense of the time commitment as well as the financial contribution expected of board members. Someone who jumps in blindly with good intentions may have to bail, and that’s not good for the organization or the person. One way to learn about local organizations is Greenlights’ board summit the organization holds in the spring like a job fair for nonprofit boards, McKissick said. “It’s just a great, fun time with cocktails” where potential board members can check out organizations. McKissick herself said she has no time to serve on other boards but is on three advisory boards where she can show up once a quarter, give her opinion and leave.
Serving on a committee is another option. McKissick talked about a young man she knew who had been passed over for promotion twice because of his lack of budgeting experience. He took a position on a finance committee of a nonprofit board and that experience was enough to push him past that hurdle.
Justice interjected that serving on nonprofit boards had taught her to present in front of groups.
Finally, the group said, writing a check is not a bad way to contribute.
“Let’s be honest,” Hudgins said, “I can’t pay my staff or the electricity bill with your time.”