Name: Suzanne Walden-Wells
Job Title: Director of Community Life – Eastmark
Board: Arizona Citizens for the Arts
Board Title: Finance Committee Chair
How long have you served on this board? I am in my third year.
What drew you to this organization? My interest in and passion for the arts was certainly a motivating factor, but just as important was the influence of Arizona Citizens for the Arts’s executive director, Rusty Foley. I have known Rusty for years and admire her unwavering dedication to lifting the arts and culture sector to its rightful place in Arizona. The arts have an economic impact of $500 million annually, and more than 50,000 are employed in creative industries throughout the state. It’s an important part of our tourism value proposition and the impact to education is undeniable. We should all understand that.
What would you say is one of the biggest challenges for a businessperson serving on a nonprofit board? I feel the challenge is the same, whether you are a businessperson or a stay-at-home mom. It’s all about time management — ensuring that you are meeting your obligations and making a meaningful contribution to the organization you are serving. Incorporating board commitments into my workday is an important first step. I am fortunate that my employer — DMB — has a genuine commitment to community service and supports my volunteer service, as well as that of many colleagues.
How did you overcome that challenge? I think it’s important to focus on areas where my skills can make the most difference. There are things that are easy for me but may be very challenging for a nonprofit. Sometimes, the task is as simple as making a phone call to a colleague. It takes five minutes out of my day but can make a world of difference for the nonprofit.
What about the biggest opportunity? The opportunity lies in learning new things and being exposed to new ways of thinking. High-functioning boards have members with diverse backgrounds, opinions and ideas. They debate then collaborate, which leads to better, more informed decisions.
What do you wish you had known before joining the board? AZCA’s mission is one of advocacy, which was new territory for me. I was a little intimidated when I went to meet with state legislators for the first time. I wish I had known that it’s not that hard and that most legislators genuinely appreciate the opportunity to hear from us.
What do you feel your greatest accomplishment has been during your time on the board? This past spring, AZCA’s lobbying efforts resulted in the Arizona State Legislature earmarking $1.5 million of the annual budget for the arts. It was a huge win, especially considering that arts funding was excluded from the 2015-16 state budget. This accomplishment was the result of hard work on the part of many volunteers and staff, and I am happy I was able to play a small part.
What would you say to someone considering joining a nonprofit board? Find a cause that lights you up, then find a way to serve. If you believe in the organization, your service won’t feel like work. It will feel more like a gift — a gift to yourself.
Anything else you’d like to share? Make sure you know what is expected of you before you commit to serving on a board. Most nonprofits rely on the active support of volunteers to carry out their mission. Making a financial contribution is important. Rolling up your sleeves is essential.