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Behind the red kettles: View from the board

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Strong, healthy communities are maintained by service to others all year long, although donating time and money captures our attention primarily during the holidays. For nonprofits such as The Salvation Army, for example, fundraising events often determine whether the organization can continue to serve others.

In tandem with fundraising initiatives, and equally important to operational excellence, is strong board leadership.

We see The Salvation Army's iconic red kettles and hear the bell ringers but may not know any of the businesspeople and community servants behind the meals, Christmas assistance, clothing, after-school mentoring and church services. Moreover, why do people serve on these boards? It's not for the pay, and it's not because they have unused blocks of free time. For those who serve with The Salvation Army, a common response I hear is, "It's a blessing."

I had no idea how much more there was to The Salvation Army story until I was asked to serve on the advisory board in Harrisburg. It has proved to be one of the best investments I've made with my most valuable nonrenewable resource — my time. Here are five benefits that have left an impression on me and solidified my commitment to serve:

1. Every board meeting begins with prayer. The Salvation Army also is a church with a 147-year history of serving the "hungry, the hopeless, and the hurting." They are unabashedly Christian, yet around the advisory board table sit servants of several faiths coming together to meet the needs in our own backyard.

Knowing that The Salvation Army leaders believe they answer to Jesus Christ gives transparency and due diligence entirely new meanings. Every person served, every donor contacted, every dollar donated is sacred to them.

2. Time matters. Meetings begin and end when they are scheduled. Professionals from every sector circle the board table — attorneys, chief executives, public officials, entrepreneurs, bankers — and we have full-time jobs as well as service with other organizations. We are glad to donate time and resources, because we know The Salvation Army respects both and invests our talents wisely.

3. High-level thinkers. I have never served with such an influential, strategic-minded group. Transparency abounds at every level and in every document. The financial report is adroitly scrutinized; the programs are evaluated on performance goals; and every initiative revolves around "Doing the Most Good" for the children and families they serve. To take part in the strategic discussions — how to advance a capital campaign, how to leverage assets and facilities, how to fill board positions with skilled people — is a privilege.

4. It's all about those in need. The small "army" of workers who run the day-to-day operations in the Harrisburg region receive hundreds of calls to request services and to donate goods. To them, the end-game is crystal clear: "The least of these" is their target audience. They work 24/7 to clothe, feed, care, and minister to all in need — regardless of address, race, income, creed or other qualifiers.

The board demonstrates its support with a 100 percent financial commitment and a 100 percent service commitment. When you're distributing Christmas assistance, serving breakfast to the homeless or praying with a grieving family, you get a very clear picture of needs and priorities.

5. Their time horizon. Current Vice Chairwoman Kathleen Pavelko is no stranger to fundraising, capital campaigns and operational plans. After a recent board meeting, we chatted about the books each of us is writing. Her topic highlights the horizon of time in an organization and how that lens affects decision making. She believes the difference between an assistant's responsibilities and the CEO's are more about time than skill mastery. As CEO of WITF Inc., her time horizon is 10, 20, 30 years in the future, or as long as the organization's lifespan; her assistant's is now, today, tomorrow.

"Do you know how far Harvard's strategic plan stretches?" she asked me. "One hundred years!" Leading from that mindset makes every decision intentional.

But The Salvation Army's time horizon? It's eternity. Every detail, every dollar, every individual has eternal significance to them.

"I've rarely encountered an organization that had such a continuing awareness of its longevity," Ms. Pavelko said. "They draw strength for today's work from the efforts begun a century and a half ago."

That's why I serve on this board. There are many worthy and highly regarded nonprofits in our community, and there are always vacant board seats yearning for good leaders who also believe service is a blessing.

What about you? What special cause or organization has touched your life?

Anne Deeter Gallaher is CEO and owner of Deeter Gallaher Group LLC, based in Mechanicsburg.

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