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Community Involvement: How to Make the Best Choice for You and Your Business |  March 15, 2011 (3 comments)


Mahtomedi, MN—Because luxury jewelers often are perceived as having deep pockets, many local non-profits believe that inviting you to serve on their board will help address the fiscal needs of the organization. Yes, they may be looking for additional qualities which you embody, such as organizational or communication skills, or you may be representative of a demographic which they want to reach, but jewelers are thought of as leaders with money—especially when their stores are filled with high-end brands, big diamonds, and/or luxury watches.

Serving on a non-profit board is a proven success strategy for luxury jewelers, but it can’t be just any board. How do you review an invitation to serve on a board before agreeing to do so? Following these easy guidelines will help to ensure that you, the organization, and the organization’s clients truly benefit from the relationship.

Mission, accomplished? First, is this an organization whose mission you support? If it doesn't touch your heart, decline. If it does touch your heart, decide whether you want to serve on the board primarily for personal reasons or for business reasons. You might accept a position with Special Olympics because you care deeply about the population served and that service is your goal. Or, you might agree with the goal but recognize that the reason you are prompted to accept the invitation includes a wish to expand your business opportunities by working with a mom with a special needs child who is also a woman with a wide sphere of influence and the ability to help increase recognition of your business among her peers. It is rarely either/or, but understanding your business motivation, if there is one, will help you determine how to commit your name, your time, and your money to service on that board. Be honest with yourself. If your primary goals have to do with business, make business-like decisions about the board on which you'll serve.

Your name is a valuable asset to you, and it can be a valuable asset to the non-profit. Just as you wish to protect your good name in the community by thinking through your events, marketing them well, and taking necessary steps to make them successful, you have every reason to expect that the non-profit will do the same with your name. Give it only to those non-profits that use donor funds to achieve measurable success in a realistic and timely way. If you are considering the local branch of a national organization, check at a site such as to see how the organization compares with like organizations in terms of direct service to clients, comparable overhead, and more. Just as you judge the quality of product provided by a vendor on which you will put your business name when you package it to leave your store, judge the quality of the experience provided by the nonprofit to its stakeholders. Your name will be on that package as well.

Timely investment. Your time spent should reflect your anticipated business outcome. If you only seek goodwill, your time commitment might be less than if you are joining the board because you want to expand your potential customer base. Having your community think well of you is one kind of business potential, especially in the aggregate. Having specific board members, families of service receivers, and other stakeholders build trust in you because you are working effectively, side-by-side, offers a different kind of business potential, one that rewards your personal involvement with the potential of specific purchasers over time. Plan to be an active team player if personal relationship building is your goal -- show up for, work on, and lead committees; undertake fund-raising activities, and actively connect with other board members, donors, and other stakeholders. 

Finally, make sure your money is really at work. Does the organization have a low overhead but an effective delivery of services to its clientele or its cause? Does the organization keep good, audited books? Is the board clear that its role is fiscal and legal, responsible to the organization, not as a rubber stamp for the executive director. Conversely, does the board provide the executive and any staff the tools they need to work effectively, including freedom from micromanagement or a single oppressive board member? Is there an appropriate check and balance for receipt of monies and deposits, so that you don't suddenly find yourself listed as a board member for an association where mismanaged money is in the news? If special needs adults or children are involved, are you comfortable that the clients are protected while in the care of the organization?

How to say “no” graciously. What if, after reviewing your potential investments of your name, your time, and your money, you decide that becoming a member of a particular board is not a good use of those assets?

You may be tempted to serve briefly, minimally, inattentively, to avoid offending a client who invited you. Yet remember your business purpose in evaluating the invitation: if your purpose was to reach potential clients, do you want your business reputation to bear a neutral or even a negative association with an organization which does not have the ability to demonstrate effectiveness or does not deliver value?

Think through possible options to help affirm your relationship with the client in other ways. And, if you decide to say no, consider giving that information to the organization’s leader, not your client. Be truthful, constructive, gentle, and clear.  “I really value the mission of your group, but I can’t accept the invitation to serve on the board absent a clear board orientation packet and defined board roles, though I would consider an invitation to serve on this board when that clarity is available.” Or, perhaps, “I honor what your group is trying to accomplish, but with the board’s recent history of extensive hands-on involvement in the organization rather than a focus on fiscal and legal responsibilities for the organization while leaving daily management to qualified staff, I can’t make a commitment to the group.”

Many very fine non-profits exist, and much good comes from them. Qualified leaders who will commit name, time, and money make all the difference. If you choose to serve on a nonprofit board for reasons of the heart, you might not feel all these business considerations are make-or-break choices. But if serving on a board is a business decision, remember that your intent is to bring your business benefit with the connections you make, so protect and further your good name, make your time out of the store well-spent, and ensure that your dollars are used effectively to achieve the goals of the organization and of your business. If you have stepped up to community leadership by service on a local non-profit board, thanks. We need more people like you.


Charlotte Preston Catalysts Inc. provides business leadership consultation and services for independent jewelers, facilitates targeted business peer groups for jewelers, and develops the educational content and programs for multiple industry associations. Charlotte also is an active board member of many nonprofit organizations, both civic and in the jewelry industry. She is the recipient of the national Women’s Jewelry Association Award for Excellence in Special Services. Contact her at (651) 653-3919,, or log onto

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Comments (3):

This article makes some very good points and makes it clear that joining any board can have a negative outcome if you show no interest or involvement.  I have been blown away by people who think that their good name or company’s good name is enough of a contribution in and of itself to justify a board seat. To justify their position on the board if they don’t plan on working hard, they should give an enormous amount of money.  Otherwise boards, and the constituencies they represent get the picture very quickly - all glory and no guts - and will avoid shopping in what must be a similar environment as every store necessarily reflects the attitude of its owner.  Transparency is unavoidable in board service.

I do take issue with the concept of investing time proportionately with your perceived benefit to your business (Paragraph 5).  I may be old-school but I firmly believe that any and every board you decide to join should benefit from the hardest work you can possibly do for them, regardless of how you perceive (or predict) the business results to be.  It’s just like judging people who enter your store by how they dress.  Since when can one predict the outcome of any interpersonal involvement?  I have been chair of the largest public addiction education, treatment and prevention services in the state of Iowa for five years.  My terms have just recently expired.  This not-for-profit’s clientele is almost completely incapable of paying for their rehabilitation, relying upon state and federal funding to foot the bill.  One would not predict that there would be ANY positive business outcome from despondent people without resources and therefore, according to the logic of this article, I should not have put much into this service.  It is true, however, that the recovering community in our town of 66,000, as well as anyone’s area, is quite large and quite varied.  In this case, the recovery community is quite aware of what happens within this particular institution, a fact with which I was completely unaware.  I have not only been rewarded in my business to the tune of the mid six figures from this constituency, but I have also been able to either directly or indirectly secure funding for the non-profit approaching one million dollars from my work with the non-profit and the visibility I have helped to give it in the recovering community, many of whom are my friends.  I would never have estimated these results and, using the logic of commitment commensurate with perceived business benefit, I would not have given it my all or my best and I believe now that I even could have done more harm from that approach to my business than good.  Even though I think the author suggests this at other places in the article, having a maxim equating time committed to perceived business outcome is not only unwise, it likely runs contrary to one’s business philosophy of not judging a book by its cover, which if one hasn’t adopted this fundamental idea, it’s high time they did! 

Thank you, though for the general idea that committing to serve should be done seriously, and that serving should be done with great thought, follow-through with full knowledge of the gravity and potential impact of your work.  I know of no quicker way to put yourself on the map of so many different people with resources than through board service and the author illuminates the seriousness of this decision quite well.  Thank you on behalf of board chairs everywhere!  If you’re asked and you accept, you serve as best as you can!  If you want to be accepted as a jeweler who sincerely believes in giving back to the community that has so generously supported the jeweler, serve seriously and well! It WILL be recognized and acknowledged, sometimes in the most surprising ways! 

By Bill Nusser on Mar 16th, 2011 at 11:23pm

Bill Nusser’s comments are much appreciated as a clarification to my meaning in this article. Nusser is right that there is no top limit to the appropriateness of time invested when serving in a community leadership role. My intent was to establish a minimum, not a maximum, contending that if one isn’t prepared to make a time commitment one should not expect business return. I heartily believe that those who give generously of their time, as he does, will experience the rewards of the heart, satisfaction in service, gratitude from the community served as well as its supportors, and often find those manifest in business return. Thanks for sharing your experience with having served “seriously and well.”

By Charlotte Preston on Mar 18th, 2011 at 10:25pm

I can see that you are putting a lot of time and effort into your blog and detailed articles!

By escortes a laval on Jun 14th, 2011 at 6:27am

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