Spokes took to the nonprofit community ‘streets’ to talk to a local volunteer who began her service career while still in college. Christie Tjong Clemons’ experience with board service has helped her develop skills that have reinforced her tremendous impact locally and in her career as the Sales Manager and a top-ranking sales executive at Fidelity National Title for the Central Coast. Christie joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters Board of Directors when she was 23-years-old, and is a Past President and current Vice President of the organization. Spokes talked to Christie about her board experience and the lessons that can help anyone considering board service or recruiting for a nonprofit board.
What motivated you to join a nonprofit board?
CTC: I served as an AmeriCorps member at Cal Poly for two years, volunteering a total of 900 hours to local nonprofit agencies in SLO County. My second year, I committed my hours only to Big Brothers Big Sisters and conducted trainings and orientations for the organization, oversaw community outreach as well as assisted in community-based matching. My positive experience with the agency naturally led me to want to become more involved after I graduated from Cal Poly and AmeriCorps. I saw firsthand from a college roommate, who was a Big Brother, how the mentor program changes lives for both adults and children in our community.
What are some of the challenges you encountered at that young age?
CTC: BBBS is a very strong successful fundraising board; our main goal is to raise funds and solicit donors so we can maintain and grow our matches in the community. Joining the board at such a young age, I found it difficult at first to cultivate relationships with donors, whether it be individuals and/or businesses. I was also so green to joining a board, it took me several years if not longer to understand “my role” on the Board of Directors. I found myself sitting back on the sidelines for the first few years, simply observing my fellow directors’ accomplishments.
What did you wish you knew then that you know now?
CTC: When Rick Cohen invited me onto the board, he was supportive – he knew I was young, but by watching and developing skills, I would eventually become a veteran and still have a lot of energy to devote to BBBS. I wish I believed and understood more clearly – I spent a lot of time beating myself up for not being able to raise more money or offering my input at board meetings. It felt awkward going to some of our fundraising events. However, looking back, no one held it against me – all the staff and other directors were supportive.
I wish I had truly understood that fundraising for a nonprofit is not a personal ask; it’s an ask for the children, their parents, and the community. I also wish I knew all the creative fundraising strategies, like creating an event or a monthly-giving campaign.
What have you gained from your experience?
CTC: I cannot list the amount of knowledge, relationships, support, friendships, business connections, and encouragement I have gained from my experience. Joining the Big Brothers Big Sisters Board of Directors has truly been one of if not THE MOST rewarding, educational, and genuine experiences of my life. I have gained professionalism, patience, and fundraising information. In addition, I have a better understanding of how many children and adults need our assistance, as well as an appreciation of our community’s generosity towards our children.
Nonprofit board service is a great way for young professionals to expand business skills and make a genuine difference in the community. Becoming an effective change-maker is a commitment that takes time and education, which Spokes tackles in its brand-new program Board Training Basics: Excellence in Nonprofit Leadership.