Finding Passion in Your Nonprofit Board Service

In May, my two-year term as chairman of the board for St. Petersburg’s Museum of Fine Arts came to a close. I’ve sat on the MFA’s board of trustees since 2014. Of all the boards I had been asked to join, the museum was high on my bucket list.

As a leader giving back to the community is one of the most important contributions you can make so it’s vital that the nonprofit organization you lend your time to is one you feel connected to in some way. For me, that connection came with the MFA. I am an avid art lover and have been collecting art since high school. Outside of my family and my company my two passions in life are education and the arts. Since 2008, I have served on boards that closely aligned with those two interests.

It didn’t take me long to realize the same skill sets you apply to a for-profit business are equally, if not more, useful in the nonprofit sector. Serving on a nonprofit board is a serious commitment for both you and the organization. The nonprofit relies on your time, talent and resources to help move their organization forward. The work you put in not only helps you grow in your philanthropy and educates you on the needs of the community, but the personal fulfillment is truly immeasurable.

In addition to having a genuine interest in the organization and its mission, it’s also beneficial to learn everything you can about the desired nonprofit organization. You can get involved or engaged on any level with the organization, that’s a step in the right direction. My introduction to the MFA began in 1990 when my husband, Steve, and our three children moved to St. Petersburg. With my passion for art, I was soon visiting the MFA frequently to explore the galleries and view the new exhibitions. I started to attend social events and enjoy at the benefits of being a member of a world-class museum.

In 2000, I joined The Margaret Acheson Stuart Society, the MFA’s fundraising nonprofit, and the next year became a lifetime member. For the past five years, I have been on the MFA’s board, I had the honor of serving as chairman and also being selected to head the search committee for a new executive director.    

That was a first for me—serving on the board of an organization during a significant leadership change—and I welcomed the opportunity. As a board member, especially with a nonprofit, it helps to be adaptable and ready to put in hard work. One might assume a museum board is all glamour and doesn’t require heavy lifting, but this was not the case at the MFA. Our months of hard work paid off when Kristen A. Shepherd joined the MFA in December 2016. Months later,I became chairman of the board, making it the first time two women led both, the board and the organization at the same time. As chairman, I gained a deeper knowledge of all the factors affecting an arts nonprofit organization in Florida and developed a stronger appreciation for the historical importance, and position, of the MFA in our community.

With St. Petersburg becoming more and more arts-oriented,it’s exciting to see this shift, recognizing the arts are important for economic development and that arts institutions, like the MFA, round us out as a community. The fulfillment and gratitude you feel being a part of something bigger than yourself is immeasurable. In the past two years, the MFA has grown from a beloved-but-sleepy museum to one that is moving forward in a fresh, new direction, and being a part of that feels really good. And if you can find a nonprofit organization that connects to your passion, the reward could be the same for you..

Cathy Collins is CEO of Clinical Consulting Solutions and former co-founder and CEO of Meridien Research and the Insearch Group. She was the 2017-19 chairman of the board for the Museum of Fine Arts of St. Petersburg, and served as the 2015-16 board chair for the Pinellas Education Foundation. She has also served on the Shorecrest Preparatory board for nine years, including the position of chair and on the FreeFall Theatre Company’s board for two years. She sits on the board of the Bank of Tampa, serving since 2014.

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