Yes, You Should Run for SEJ’s Board

June 1, 2015

SEJ President’s Report


Busy people know how to get things done.

So, when I suggest that you consider running for a seat on the board of directors of the Society of Environmental Journalists, your first reaction (“I’m far too busy!”) can be quickly countered: Busy people are known for managing their time.

Moreover, so many of us are involved with SEJ because its mission means something to us. We’ve joined SEJ, at least in part, because we enjoy making a statement about the importance of more and better coverage of environmental issues. Therefore, it stands to reason that joining the SEJ board will simply enhance that great feeling of supporting a cause in which you believe.

Finally, there is an extraordinary sense of family that comes with serving on the SEJ board, fueled by that shared mission.

The issues board members tackle are many: Taking action to fight FOIA battles, fundraising, conference planning, recruiting new members, guiding our experienced staff with policy, representing SEJ at public appearances, event planning, strengthening our diversity, raising awareness of SEJ at every opportunity.

We are a task-oriented board. Because the size of our paid staff is small, board members are expected to roll up their sleeves and do stuff. There’s no room for only pontificating.

Let’s break down the time and expense:

  • Board members must attend the four quarterly meetings, one of which coincides with the annual SEJ conference. Each meeting is held in a different city – often where we’d like to hold a conference and where we want to build an awareness of SEJ.
  • Between meetings, the time commitment is limited to two to three conference calls.
  • There are a dozen or so email discussions about pressing issues addressed between board meetings.
  • In order to save money, occasionally one of the quarterly board meetings turns into an online meeting rather than physically travelling to meet, further reducing your time commitment.
  • Does SEJ reimburse board members for all expenses? No. Board members are reimbursed for air travel and hotel costs to the three, non-conference quarterly meetings – minus $100. We’re not reimbursed for the cost of getting to and from the airports, or most meals. Board members are not reimbursed for the cost of attending the SEJ conference because we’d attend anyway.

The fact is it doesn’t require a lot of your time or money to serve on the SEJ board. If you rise up through the hierarchy and serve as an officer or on the executive committee, there’ll be some additional commitments.

Conversely, there are some very important things SEJ board members must bring to the table. Board members of almost every nonprofit are expected to donate an amount of money that suits them.

No one is forcing you. No one is setting an amount. But, it’s entirely reasonable that, if the institution means enough to you to run for the board, it should also get some level of donation from you. Additionally, many foundations that fund groups like SEJ often ask whether each board member has donated.

SEJ is tight with our members’ money. So board members don’t get their conference registration waived. We don’t get our membership dues waived either. It just wouldn’t pass the sniff test.

Another option is to raise money for SEJ. Journalists and fundraising sometimes don’t mix. For example, no one would expect you to solicit funds from people or institutions you cover. So we have a system where fundraising leads are handed off to someone else who can make the inquiry. Our policies severely limit from whom we can accept donations.

The most important thing to remember before tossing your hat in the ring is this: Being an SEJ board member is about giving, not receiving. SEJ welcomes candidates who are in it for all the right reasons, not the selfish ones.

The bottom line is this: Joining the SEJ board is rewarding. It’s special. It makes you proud. You can help guide the world’s leading association of journalists dedicated to more and better coverage of environmental issues. Our members are in every state and province, and many nations. What we do is important. And board members are in charge.

Here’s a little tip: You know those short speeches given by candidates at the membership meeting during the conference? They’re really important. Voters have been known to discount candidates whose speeches convey a sense – rightly or wrongly– that you don’t care that much. Our members are journalists, after all. They’re smart. They care. And it’s a genuine honor to serve on their board.

Will you throw your hat in the ring?

Jeff Burnside is a senior investigative reporter with KOMO television, Seattle’s ABC station, and has served on the SEJ Board for eight years. He’s been awarded several working fellowships and is the recipient of more than 20 journalism awards. A Seattle native, he has reported on coral reef decline, overfishing, killer whales and biomedical research, from locales like Berlin, Bali, the Arctic Circle, Panamanian jungles, and throughout the Caribbean, Hawaii and the Everglades.

* From the quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Spring 2015. Each new issue of SEJournal is available to members and subscribers only; find subscription information here or learn how to join SEJ. Past issues are archived for the public here.

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