Q&A With Mary Purvis

March 15, 2023 - Events, General News - Posted by

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With more women on nonprofit boards, organizations are better positioned to address issues impacting Mississippi’s women and girls. Check out our Q&A with our Chair Elect and speaker at our training event She’s on Board, Mary Purvis, about nonprofit board service and why She’s on Board is such a valuable resource for Mississippi women.

What drew you to nonprofit board service?

Generally, I think the legal community really values community service, service to the profession, and access to justice issues. I found out early in my practice that there was a real emphasis on community service.

And of course I grew up in Jackson, and so that community service has always been a part of my life. My mother was really active in community service. My initial foray was when we lived in the Belhaven community and I got involved with friends on the board of Laurel Street Park. 

What that experience did show me was how you can contribute to your community; you can serve others in a new and unique way by being on the board. 

What are a few responsibilities that come with nonprofit board service?

While volunteering at Laurel Street Park, I helped plan for the park, coordinated fundraising efforts, like a benefit at the Fairview Inn, and wrote grant proposals as part of the committee. 

At Operation Shoestring, I served three-year terms, I continued to build my network, connect with others who are passionate about community work, and see how boards really work. I developed skills in strategic planning and mission-based decision making and gained confidence in my abilities. 

I found that community board service is about community impact, but also about fostering new and young board members and giving them the tools they need to understand the impact that they can make in their communities. 

Because nonprofits are really at the intersection of so many different aspects of our community, and because of that they have to be nimble and ready to evolve. A strong board has a diverse set of skills and perspectives. In order to build that, nonprofit boards really need to be a learning space. 

Why do we need more women on nonprofit boards?

Boards should be representative of the communities they serve. As a community, and as a board, we have to be intentional about placing women at the table. But not only that, there needs to be more women in all spaces. Women’s voices and perspectives are important, in every room and at every table where decisions are being made.

How do you think nonprofits benefit from having more diverse boards?

It’s particularly important in Mississippi that we look at the diversity of our nonprofit boards. There is so much commitment and enthusiasm and energy for community service in Mississippi–we are such a generous state! I think it’s important in a state like ours to be intentional about how we build out these opportunities for people to get involved in their communities. 

Why are programs like She’s on Board so important to have in Mississippi? 

I think She’s on Board is such a unique space in that it is both a training opportunity and a network opportunity for participants. It can result in new collaborations and new efforts on improving Mississippi. 

Tell me about your experience during the event.

There’s so much happening in that room on that day. We go over what happens in a board meeting–how you prepare, what to expect, what parliamentary procedure is and how it’s used during the decision-making process. We unpack common questions like: ‘How do boards make decisions? How do boards handle and resolve conflict?’. 

We really try to demystify the board meeting, and address topics that may seem intimidating to people. The goal is to help people feel comfortable with the process and to empower them. 

How is nonprofit board service changing?

The old school concept of board service as a position of power and prestige is rightfully going by the wayside. Community impact and systemic change is the future of board service–it just comes down to communication.

How can younger generations get on board?

I am so impressed and encouraged and optimistic about the ways that this new generation is going to impact our world. Their engagement in social justice issues and in identifying community needs is outstanding–they have so much to teach us. 

For nonprofits looking to recruit young people, I think it all comes down to communication. Organizations need to reach out, communicate needs, and de-mystify the space so that younger generations feel welcomed. They also need to learn from them, get their perspective, and look for ways to engage in systemic change. 

Young people want to see the difference; they want to make a meaningful impact. And because nonprofits have been called to be data-driven and have measurable objectives–they are really a good match for this next generation of change-makers. 

Get on Board

Hear from Mary Purvis at She’s on Board! The event will take place on March 24, 2023 at the Junior League of Jackson Headquarters. Click here to reserve your spot! She’s on Board is sponsored by The Women’s Exchange at Merrill Lynch.

Responses edited for clarity and brevity. 

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