“We believe Geauga County is better when people come together,” that’s the motto of Leadership Geauga County, a nonprofit organization that has been in the community for 25 years, building bridges between the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

With annual programs that inform, educate and inspire future decision-makers in Geauga County, the group offers initiatives to bring people together including the popular “On Board” program, a 10-month experiential leadership program designed to help people better understand what is going on in the community.

“We want to shine a light on them and help the greater community, see what they’re doing here, and then we want to connect the really great people in the community who are here into the nonprofit, and so On Board is just one of the programs we do,” Executive Director Melanie Scanlon said.

The organization focuses on different topics each month including education, healthcare, government, business and agriculture. The goal is to connect program participants with leaders in those different areas so they can learn about these respective areas.

LGC members realize there was a barrier between the great people who live and work here who have a lot of passion and skills and just do not understand the nonprofit community.

“A lot of times people only know about their little slice of the world, and they know their niche, but they don’t realize how much is going on here county-wide” Ms. Scanlon said.

This is the third year for the On Board program and the goal is to help take people out of their routine and out of their comfort zones, and hopefully help them learn a little bit more about the place that they either work or they live.

“We want people to become inspired and want to get involved to make the community an even better place, so to get ‘On Board’ is really important to us because we know there’s a lot of nonprofit organizations and there’s needs in the community that people might not even be aware of.”

Ms. Scanlon was born and raised here, living in Munson Township for 13 years, and considers herself a lifelong resident of the county.“I knew nothing about the nonprofit community before I started at Leadership Geauga, that’s been one of my biggest learning takeaways as the executive director.

“We’ve had such positive feedback from the participants, even if they choose not to join the board, they just better understand nonprofits and they might participate in a walk to support a nonprofit or they might decide to attend an event, so even if they choose not to join a board or that opportunity doesn’t present itself, they leave with a better understanding of the importance of nonprofits and the work they’re doing, and so that’s really a win-win for everybody,” Ms. Scanlon said.

The program consists of three parts. Session one focuses on the nonprofit landscape in the community, what a nonprofit is, how many different types are out there nationwide and locally and why nonprofits are important in different sectors.

In Ohio, nonprofits employ over 11 percent of the state’s workforce, and there are over 545 registered nonprofits in the county. “You’re really giving people a better understanding of a broad stroke nonprofit one-on-one, if you will,” Ms. Scanlon said.

In session two, participants learn a little bit about nonprofit boards, how they function, the roles and responsibilities of a board, what is needed to be a knowledgeable and effective board member and gain a better understanding for the impact of board service.

“We help people explore what they really care about, what passions do they have, what skills do they offer, and then we share what people should expect from that practice so if you’re getting involved, what really should your nonprofit be providing so that you can do your job most effectively,” Ms. Scanlon said.

Session three is the last session, which will be held virtually this year, and is all about creating a space for nonprofit organizations to share their mission, programs and services. On Board participants get to have one on one conversations with the nonprofits and explore the work that they are doing in the community and see if it is a good fit.

“So, we never want someone to just take a mega nonprofit out of a hat and say, ‘Hey, I’m just gonna join that.’ We want it to be a great fit, and so that’s what the third session is really about,” Ms. Scanlon said.

“I love putting on sort of my detective hat and, you know, helping people really do some more reflection and better understand who they are, what they care about and then connecting them with organizations.”

There are many nonprofits that participate in the program looking for individuals who can give a few years of their time to an organization.

Angela Daugherty first heard of the Geauga On Board event two years ago. She is the executive director of Family Pride of Northeast Ohio, which provides counseling and mental health support service to children, youth and families throughout Northeast Ohio.

“As a director of a nonprofit, Geauga On Board has been a huge help to our organization who has been able to bring on new board members as a direct result of the program,” she said. “My involvement is during the last training day, when we get to directly talk with the program participants about our organization.”

Ms. Daugherty said, “Being a board member is one of the most challenging volunteer opportunities to take on that has a big learning curve. Geauga On Board is an excellent training opportunity for interested individuals to learn more about volunteering on a board, the impact of their roles on the nonprofits prior to having that conversation with a nonprofit agency – it really is a win-win.”

Ms. Daugherty’s advice to anyone starting the Nov. 2 program is, “Hone-in on your own interests and what you are passionate about and that will make any future board volunteerism worthwhile, you will make a difference.”

Lori O’Neill with BHHS Professional Realty is a member of Geauga Growth Partnership and has had past experience building a nonprofit, having served on a few boards drafting board members, and registered for On Board last year. “I had been thinking about getting involved again and I thought this would be a great refresher on learning about the role of boards,” Ms. O’Neill said.

“What I liked about it was that they were featuring a number of nonprofits in Geauga County specifically that did all kinds of different work and the opportunity to learn more about them. And so that interested me, the education coupled with the opportunity to take a closer look at people who are already doing different types of work in our county,” she said.

Ms. O’Neill believes the program helped increase her understanding of the important role that boards play in the health of nonprofit organizations. She said one of the important things to understand about the program is that board members are essentially asked to be there and they need to have a passion for what the nonprofit does. “You need to have a personal connection or personal passion for that particular area whether it’s an issue or whatever it might be, if you have a passion for it you are much more likely to get involved in being an effective member of the board,” Ms. O’Neill said.

“Often, nonprofits cannot pay professionals for all of the different skill sets that are needed such as finance, communications or marketing, so when you draft people that have that expertise, you get the benefit of that, so I think that board members play an important role in fleshing out the skill sets that are needed to run the nonprofit successfully.”

Ms. Scanlon believed that LGC could create a program that would help bridge the gap and educate individuals who are either interested in learning more about nonprofit board service or very new nonprofit board leaders with local nonprofit board members who are passionate, committed and knowledgeable.

“We have so many great organizations here who are doing very important work to keep our friends and neighbors and community members safe, educated and well-fed,” she said. “They’re doing it because they care, they’re not doing it for publicity or for praise and they really are sort of flying under the radar, and so I love the opportunity to connect really great Geauga residents with these amazing organizations and shine a light on what they’re doing in the community because without them, who knows where we would be.”

The next “On Board” program session begins on Nov. 6. For further information, call 440-286-8115 or visit the programs tab on the organization’s website: https://www.leadershipgeauga.org/programs/.

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