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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing humanity in the workplace. I’m Susan White, a national HR consultant. With me is my co-host and good friend JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm, and she’s the author of “JoyPowered®” and “The JoyPowered® Family.”
In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about something that I personally am very passionate about, and I know it’s important to you as well, Susan. Specifically, our topic is how to propel your career through volunteer leadership, and we have a fabulous guest with us today who has lots of experience in this particular area. Julie Petr serves as the Executive Director for Dress for Success Indianapolis. It’s a nonprofit organization that provides local women with work attire, career and job placement services, also professional training to guide them towards employment and, ultimately, economic independence. It’s a priceless gift. Dress for Success helps women who are transforming their lives and seeking self-sufficiency. Some have been unemployed, while others have been working but are still unable to fully provide for themselves and their families. They come to Dress for Success Indianapolis for the clothing and the confidence to get a job and the support and resources to keep the job and move ahead. As the Executive Director, Julie is responsible for campaign fundraising, volunteer management, event planning, financial oversight, and programming. But before Dress for Success, which is where I met Julie, Julie was the Executive Director for the Pass the Torch for Women Foundation. That’s another organization that embraces the vision of a world where women are more equitably represented. Prior to that, she served as the Corporate Director for the American Heart Association, where for five years she led the Indianapolis Go Red For Women campaign. Obviously, Julie has a heart for women and nonprofits.
And she has a lot of energy.
Right. Julie lives here in the Indianapolis area with her husband, Todd, of 30 years and their four children. She’s also a board member for the Women of Skyline, on the membership committee for the Indianapolis Propylaeum, past president of her homeowners association, and active with her children’s school, book club, and travel. So, important to note that not only has Julie worked in nonprofits for most of her career, but she also volunteers for other organizations as well. And that’s why we asked her to join our podcast today.
I don’t know how you fit it all in. I’m really, really interested in learning more about you today and your sharing some of your wisdom with our listeners. So Julie, do you mind sharing maybe from the start how does volunteer leadership really help a person advance their own career?
Absolutely. And first, I’d like to say thank you for having me here today. I am passionate about volunteerism, because I see how much it does for a community, but I also know how personally it helped me so much get started in my career. So I think volunteerism is a great way to help your community, but I also think it’s a very fundamental way to help elevate your own self professionally. The first thing I think of is that companies and organizations really like to align their image and brand with a well-regarded, well-established organization that helps people in the community. So right off the bat, people who volunteer are already going to help represent their company, and by doing so they help elevate the brand of that organization. And so right off the bat, being involved in a nonprofit helps an individual within their own organization, help their own company.
I like that, it’s kind of like the individual can align their service to what the company has already publicly said that they’re supporting.
Absolutely. When the company looks good, the professional who’s representing that organization helps elevate themselves as well.
Yeah. I know for me, Julie, I… my mom and dad were community volunteers my whole life, so it was always a part of what we did as a family. And when I was in college, I volunteered, and then I was very fortunate to start working for a company out of college who was very involved in the community and did, as you, as you just mentioned, so that just became another thing I did, too, to – not only because I personally felt it was very important, but because my company was supporting us and encouraging us to do so as well. So it was a win win for me.
Absolutely. The other thing I think about is by volunteering in a leadership capacity for a nonprofit organization, you are able to expose yourself and be introduced to other professional executives in the community. And that just broadens your professional network, which can help you down the road in a variety of capacities. So every nonprofit organization that I’ve been involved with has introduced me to so many wonderful people in a variety of fields and industries that can help me in a variety of ways. So.
Good. How has volunteering helped you in your own career?
So I can use as a perfect example of myself, when I started out in my career, I was in the hotel business, and I did that for a long time. And then after I gave birth to my twins, and I already had two other children, I decided to stay home with my children for 12 years. And during that time, I was very, very active as a volunteer leader in my church, my preschool, the kids’ schools, my neighborhood association. And really by being involved with those organizations, I was attending board meetings and committee meetings, I was personally involved in volunteer recruitment and management, and then of course, constant fundraising.
And all of those skills directly helped me get my job at the American Heart Association. Because even though there had been a gap in my employment, I was able to utilize that nonprofit experience and the skills that I had established through all those years to really get that position.
You know, Julie, you brought up a point that I think is really important for our listeners. So, the years that you decided to stay home, which I think is a job in and of itself…
…you were out doing things in the community, that you were still skill building, you were expanding your network. You were ready when you decided you wanted to go back into corporate America or to whatever aspect of the working world and you had built skills while you were away. So I think our listeners that maybe make the same decision, men or women, anyone who decides to maybe be out of the workforce for a period of time, think about what can you do in the volunteer world that’s going to continue skill building so that when you come back and you have that interview about, you know, why you’re the right person for this job, you’ve got some really good recent experiences, maybe not paid, but experiences that you could share.
Right. I think that’s so important, too. And I hear so many people at times say, “I don’t have time to volunteer.” And I personally kind of think we don’t have time not to, but I think people can look at… and some of the examples you used, we can be leaders or board members in things like our church, which our whole family can be involved in, or it can be as… in our kids’ sports activities, or, you know, it can, it doesn’t have to be a time where we leave our family, necessarily, to participate. We can do it in a way that we’re still skill building, but being actively involved with our family or supporting our families’ efforts by being on a school board or a PTO or something like that.
Absolutely, especially if you’re working… involved with something that you’re passionate about, something that you really think is making a valuable impact in the community.
Right. I still, today, attribute my ability – others can tell me if it’s a good thing or not – but my ability to run a meeting and also to do team building. I attribute that to my very, very early days in my career, when I was learning it from the Junior League.
Absolutely. And what an amazing group of powerful women in the community that raise lots of money and do wonderful things for the city. I couldn’t agree more. Being able to serve on a committee or board that’s being led by a professional executive, you learn about how they inspire the team to achieve the goals that they’re trying to achieve. And every leader of the board or committee has different styles that you pick up along the way and kind of make them your own.
You know, my own personal experience, I’ve served on committees and I served on the board of directors for Gleaners Food Bank for six years, is, it was really an awakening that I could go to work all day long and I’d ask people to do things and they would do it, then I’d go to the board meeting, and I’d ask people to do things. They’d say, “Well, Susan, why should I?” So I, you know, when you’re doing volunteer work, you are having to really learn how to influence without authority. So I think that’s another real benefit.
Right. Right. And much harder.
Much harder. Right.
Absolutely. They’re not paid employees, or they have to be inspired to the mission of what you’re trying to accomplish, and that’s not always an easy task.
Absolutely. So Julie, we’d be interested in what is the best or perhaps easiest way to get a leadership opportunity on a board or committee.
I think it’s always helpful to start out as a volunteer. So Dress for Success Indianapolis, before anyone can serve on a committee or a board, they have to come on into the organization as a volunteer. And there’s a variety of volunteer ways that they can serve their time. And once they’ve served as a volunteer, they can kind of then try to get involved on a leadership capacity on a committee. And most organizations, I think, like to have volunteers or people that they know prior to actually joining a leadership board.
And take – you know, sometimes it seems a little awkward to people to just show up or call in to volunteer. Take a friend take a family member with you, get, get, get some other people involved to do it and make it more fun.
Well, another way to get involved in a leadership capacity on a volunteer board or committee is also to donate. Organizations are always looking for their donors, of course, and being a donor is an indication that you care about the mission and vision of the organization. So being a donor is also a great way to kind of get your toe into the organization. The other opportunity is to ask someone to nominate you. If you already know someone who’s a committee member, a nomination is a great way to get yourself in the door, as well.
Yeah, that’s actually the way I got my first board, which was Big Brothers Big Sisters of Evansville. And I had a friend who served on the board and I just called him up and talk to him about it and asked them if they were looking for new board members. And I think that so many nonprofit boards are looking for help. They’re looking for committee members or volunteers or board members and they might… they’re typically not posting it on a job site somewhere, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Absolutely, and every nonprofit organization is looking towards their board and committee members to serve in a variety of capacities, so you need to have a understanding of what you can bring to the table as far as providing value to that organization. So, JoDee, you’ve got a depth of wonderful human resource experience, training experience, and nonprofits need that. Someone else may have a background in finance, and nonprofits need that financial experience and wisdom as well. So really being able to kind of pitch what you can provide for the organization is helpful.
JoDee is actually particularly attractive, because she’s a CPA and an HR professional. She really is. She’s a double win if you get her. Yeah. I would also mention that, as we talked about, trying to do something in alignment with your company’s brand, that a lot of large employers will really want as part of the development for their staff members, they’ll want them to be active in the community, to be on committees and boards. I know that an institution that I worked for, it really was expected that if you were going to rise through the ranks that you got active in the community, so they wanted to support you if you found something you were passionate about in the community, they would support with, you know, philanthropic dollars, and you would devote your time. So it’s another thing. Think about if you’re in a large employer, talk to your management team, see if they have an interest in nominating you or supporting you on a board.
Right. And that is becoming much more common now, for organizations to offer paid volunteer time off, too, that people can take advantage of if they volunteer for things during the work day, or…
Absolutely. Some of the larger organizations in Indianapolis have already come up with intentional strategies to try to elevate their employees that they consider high potentials. And they have these individuals in a pipeline and part of their development path is to join a nonprofit organization and to become a leader of the organization. Almost all my committee and board member meetings take place during the work day, Monday through Friday. And the expectation is that the companies support the organization and they want to support their executive or manager that’s serving as a leader. So to address what you said, they, they don’t have to necessarily do this volunteerism at night or on the weekends.
Love it. So, Julie, if someone is looking to excel professionally, is there a best type of nonprofit to volunteer for?
I think there’s a couple criteria to look out. First of all, you want to volunteer for an organization that fits within something you are passionate about. So you don’t necessarily want to be on the board of an animal shelter if you don’t really have a passion for helping animals.
Okay, I am afraid of dogs, let’s put it on the table.
Yes. But that being said, if you’re in the financial world, maybe perhaps getting involved with women in finance would be something that would allow you to meet other executives that are in your work area. Or if you’re in health care, perhaps you want to join a committee or board for the American Heart Association, because that’s where you’re going to meet other like-minded people who maybe have the same professional interest as you do.
I see a lot of people too, who may, as you mentioned, the American Heart Association, you know, where maybe someone in their family has struggled with an illness or a disease, then that’s an attraction for them, that they become passionate about helping, for example, the American Cancer Society or something like that, that then gets them involved because they’re passionate about the mission, and then they seek to find the best fit for their skills.
Absolutely. We all have such limited time and resources, and we have to be so intentional about what we choose to do and not do. And so being able to join a nonprofit organization that helps elevate your company, helps you professionally expand your network, but it’s also something you truly passionately care about. That is the perfect solution.
I hate to end on a downer. But I also think it’s important to note that I’ve been on many boards or in volunteering at organizations where people come representing their company and then are are not responsible board members or volunteers. And I think that reflects not just on that person, but on their company as well. Have either of you experienced that?
I have, I’ve experienced it. And really, the individual is really only hurting themselves, because if they don’t show up for committee meetings and they’re not actively engaged, then it’s really a bad reflection on their leadership skills.
So Julie, I think that the topic today is so important, serving on not for profit boards, but I wondered, I would love your opinion, because I do executive coaching, some career coaching as well. And I have a lot of women who say to me, “Susan, everywhere I read, they say there’s not enough women on corporate boards,” and in fact, the state of California recently, Governor Brown signed an order that said, you know, a certain percentage of all boards have to have so many women on it. I don’t remember that percentage. But tell me, have you seen how women or men who serve on not for profit boards make that transition to serving on corporate boards, and do you have any advice, perhaps, for any listeners who are thinking “Yes, I love working on not for profit boards, but I’d also love to be asked to serve on a corporate board.”?
You bring up a good point, because less than 3% of the Fortune 500 boards have women that are serving on the CEO capacity and on those boards. It’s a very small number of women represented at those higher levels, and it’s a problem, really, for those leadership organizations, because we know that boards and organizations that have women and minorities and have diversity on the leadership team are more profitable and more successful. So the question is, I think these these boards want and seek out minority and women to help serve in that capacity. What I hear time and time again is they say they don’t have the candidates. And so I think a lot of it is women really have to put themselves forward and really sell themselves. And as JoDee said, maybe just ask to be on the board.
And I’d have to think that not only their business experience, but experience in leading not for profit boards, and really managing budgets and helping guide organizations could be really helpful. And the background.
The individual has to really sell herself…
…to get into that position.
Ironically, Susan, I just joined a corporate board this year, and they specifically said they were asking me to join the board because they were looking for someone with human resources experience, but that they also knew I was very actively involved in the community. So I think, for me at least, it was a double whammy of someone that they thought of because they knew I was involved in a lot of other activities, but then it was my professional experience that they were seeking, as well.
Terrific. That’s great.
Well, I think that the board leadership are looking for variety things. They want expertise and skill in an area. They also want influence.
And so if they can find a candidate that has a lot of connections in the community and can also provide them with the skills that they need, it’s, it’s perfect.
Right. Julie, is there anything that we haven’t asked you about this topic today that we’re missing or that we should be sharing with our listeners?
Well, I’d love to ask each of you what nonprofit organization you’ve really found your joy through.
Wow. I will tell you I started as a candy striper when I was 13, and I really did love it, and so I made a commitment to myself back then that I was always going to be involved in some not for profit, some volunteer. I’ve done a variety of different things over the years. I was a volunteer with New Hope. I was a Big Sister. I was on the board of Gleaners. I was on the Central Indiana Council on Aging finance committee. I’ve been on my parish council. I’ve been in Bishop Chatard High School Board. I’ve been a trustee and on the parish council for Christ the King. What I do now, which I have a real passion about, but honestly, I’ve been very blessed in all the things I’ve done I’ve had a passion for, is I’m on the Disability:IN Indiana, which used to be the USBLN chapter here. And so what I get a chance to do there, and with the Indianapolis affiliate, in particular, is pull together businesses who have an interest in helping employ people with disabilities. And so we are a business to business not for profit, that I just find such joy, because as you’ll listen in one of our other podcasts, I have an adult daughter with a disability, and so I know what work means to her and I want that for every person with a disability. To have some type of employment that gives them value and obviously enables them to live independently.
It’s probably life changing for your family.
Yeah. And I, too, have been… served on several different boards and been an active volunteer. I mentioned the Junior League and Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations. I also have been very involved in my churches, and my kids’ schools as PTO board members and leaders. I’ve been on the strategic planning committee for Guerin Catholic High School. I still serve and chair the strategic planning committee for Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church here in Carmel, and on a couple of other ministries in the parish. Another board that I chair right now that I’m very passionate about is The O’Connor House, which is a home for single pregnant homeless women and we provide a home and a safe Christian base for them and their children to live as well. But I’ve also been very, very active in professional organizations. So, early in my career, I was involved in Indiana CPA Society, served on many committees with them. And then I’ve been on the board of the Indianapolis SHRM chapter and HR Indiana, which I still serve on the State Council for them as well. And I think that can be an easy, safe space for people to get involved. You mentioned about women in finance earlier, or whatever might be a professional outlet for people to meet peers in their area of expertise or work, as well.
Well, and there’s so much overlap. When you mentioned The O’Connor House, I think of the woman I know, Vicki Yamasaki, who got me informed about that organization, and she was passionate about mentoring and supporting women, which is how she got involved with Pass the Torch for Women.
And then later went on to The O’Connor House, and then obviously used her connections to draw like-minded individuals to help support that. So the only other thing I was thinking about is for millennials or developing professionals, I think sometimes there is that mindset of there’s just not enough hours in the day to volunteer for more things when you’ve got a family and you’ve got your job. What I would advise those individuals to do is to get involved, maybe, at a committee level capacity that’s maybe less time consuming, but it’s still kind of an entryway into leadership capacity later down the road. It’s a good way to meet other developing professionals and hone their leadership skills, and then when a board position opens up, they’ve had some experience
Right. Perfect. I love it. Good advice. Well, Julie, thank you so much for being with us today. You’ve, you’ve taught me a lot today, and I thought, I thought I knew a lot about volunteering, but some great advice for all of our listeners and we really appreciate your time.
Thank you, and if anyone has an interest in volunteering for Dress for Success Indianapolis, you can reach me at Julie at indyDFS.org.
And that, I assume, is the website for Indianapolis Dress for Success. www dot Indy D, F as in Frank, Sam dot org.
Right. All right.
A lot of great volunteer opportunities.
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Susan, we have a listener question today, and this question is from Mike in Indiana. “My employer has recently told me that I’m going to be laid off soon, as my function is no longer needed in the market I work in, and I’m not able to relocate as my family is rooted here. When I asked if my manager could write a letter of recommendation, I was told that the company doesn’t allow any of its managers or supervisors to provide references. Instead, all reference questions need to go to a centralized HR function, who will only share my job title and the dates I was employed. I am able to get permission for them to share my final compensation rate, but that’s all. I have a great performance history with this company, but they will not share that information, and my boss even wants to help me land a new job, but she’s not allowed to speak on my behalf. What can I do?”
Gosh, Mike, I – first of all, so sorry about the job change. I’m hoping this is going to be kind of a conduit to a new job that you’re really going to love. I will tell you that most companies are moving toward this, not allowing managers or individuals in the company to give references, and so they really are centralizing it. The fear is that somebody might give some negative information that will come back to bite the company. So what I would do in your case is I would look to see, is there any former manager or boss who’s no longer with the firm who can, if they’re called, relate kind of the good experiences they had with you, see your strengths, those types of things, that would be willing to do that? If not, then you could always ask your manager if they’d be willing to not give a professional reference, but would they be willing to personally, and be very clear with the prospective employer, I’m not able to give you a professional reference, but personally, I will let you know that Mike and I are friends and how much I think of him as a human being. I think that can help that prospective employer who’s trying to figure out is this somebody we want to invite into our workplace. And then finally, the third thing that I’ve seen more is, if your company has given you performance reviews over the years and you have them, you may say to the employer, I can give you the 800 number that you call, but they’re only going to tell you the dates I was employed, my job title, and I’m giving them permission, they can confirm my salary. But I’m happy to share with you the feedback I’ve received that related to the work that I’ve done. And I’ve seen that work. JoDee, any other idea that you might have?
No, I think that’s great advice. And I don’t think most people think about utilizing their boss or their peers or coworkers as a personal reference. And that’s, I think, the ultimate advice, to do that.
Fair enough. Good luck, Mike. I hope you land in a really wonderful role.
Right. In our best practices sharing segment, we asked our followers on LinkedIn the following question. What is something an HR professional taught you that has made you a better HR professional?
What Stacey told us is that she’s learned that for employee relations, there is always another side to that story, so always investigate, always keep an open mind, then react.
Abby suggested that her HR mentor always challenges her to articulate how she makes a decision. What factors should she consider? How do I weigh the impact of the employee versus that company? And ultimately, what are the repercussions if it ends up being the wrong decision? By doing this, her mentor has really accelerated her career growth, because she was able to identify exactly what went wrong or right over time, and now she’s able to work through more difficult challenges on her own.
What Carly told us is the best advice was bring the human back to human resources. Do things kindly, ethically, with heart and compassion. Yes, legally, fair, and consistency are really important. But what her mentor taught her is that you need to handle HR issues with grace, respect, empathy, and compassion. If your employees weren’t there, the company wouldn’t be there. Nor would you.
Melissa learned to challenge herself and others to ask themselves what is the worst thing that could happen if you’re authentic and kind, honest and professional, and speak the truth and respectful. People might not like or even get angry at you, or if someone who could impact your career, might even fire you. But is that the worst thing that could happen to you? Melissa says no.
So JoDee, the best advice that I ever received from another HR person, was that the very first thing you need to do when you come into a meeting or come into any type of an issue is come with a strong business mindset. Think about the organization and what really makes sense for this workplace. And then, you know, start to introduce some of your people expertise or your HR knowledge, but always come at it first as a business person who just happens to be skilled in HR.
Right. Great advice.
In our in the news segment, Starbucks recently launched new caregiver benefits. I thought this was really interesting. They offer it for all 180,000 of their U.S. employees. Each worker is eligible for 10 subsidized backup care days every year when arrangements with child or adult care providers fall through. This can be huge for employees. The benefits package they brand as Care at Work has had very minimal to no cost to the employee and includes backup childcare, backup care for adults, senior care planning, and a premium membership to care.com, where employees can access at no cost an online marketplace for finding and managing family care. It’s a $147 value per employee. I wonder if this will be a new trend for employers.
I think it’s amazing, given the huge amount of part time staff that Starbucks has. I think it’s pretty revolutionary to be that generous, and I think it’s wonderful.
I do too.
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