A Love Letter to Our Outgoing Board Chair
It’s a bizarre role a person must play when on the Board of Directors for a nonprofit organization. This volunteer position holds a lot of legal responsibility: duty of care, ensuring prudent use of all assets; duty of loyalty, ensuring that a nonprofit’s activities are advancing its mission and recognizing and disclosing conflicts of interest; and duty of obedience, ensuring that the nonprofit obey applicable laws and regulations (Source: National Council of Nonprofits). Basically, a board member, who generally also has a full-time job, is responsible for securing adequate financial resources, supporting the CEO, assisting in resource development, setting strategic direction, and serving as advocates for an organization that does not pay them. It is a very weird system that we set up (which is another blog altogether), and it also speaks volumes to the importance of our voluntary sector that asks people to contribute to something bigger than themselves.
And yet, board members come and go every day in the nonprofit sector without much fanfare. As board members rotate off nonprofit boards, there’s a pat on the back, a gift, a thank you.
Sonia Rodriguez began her work with SA2020 in 2010 when she was tapped as one of the tri-chairs of what began as a community engagement process to create a vision and strategic plan for the future of San Antonio. She was passionate and serious about making the process inclusive and open. In 2012, she became a founding member of the Board of Directors for what would ultimately become SA2020 the nonprofit organization. Then, in 2014, she stepped into the role of Chair of the SA2020 Board of Directors when then-Mayor Julián Castro moved to D.C. to become Secretary Castro. She continued to be passionate and serious about making our work inclusive and open.
Over the last few years, as I moved into the role of President & CEO, Sonia has absolutely handled the legal responsibility of her role—including the recruitment of a new board—but that role has expanded to include: sounding board, email editor, cat herder, contract reviewer, spokesperson, and friend.
I can’t remember the first time I met Sonia, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the last few months, particularly because her elected tenure as the Chair of the SA2020 Board of Directors is coming to an end. I remember attending a meeting with her once, early in our working relationship, and thinking how the fierceness she exuded was inspiring. I remember how she walked us through that agenda, listening and amplifying the quieter voices in the room. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing her leadership many times over the years.
In her tenure with us, we’ve grown from a community vision to a fledgling nonprofit to an organization leading one of the largest aligned system strategies for true community change in the nation. There is no other city in the United States that is actively engaging and aligning the public, private, and nonprofit sectors towards a collective vision created by the community-at-large. Sure, there are cities with community visions. There are even cities that have active cross-sector coalitions. But San Antonio is the only city that does so in the coordinated effort we have created because we took our community vision and turned it into a nonprofit, creating an objective, independent agency to hold our institutions and community accountable to the results we agreed we wanted to see.
Fortunately, Sonia isn’t going anywhere. She becomes our very first Immediate Past Chair and will continue to serve on our Executive Committee, but I am particularly reflective of the work she has accomplished in her volunteer role with us.
We do our work in partnership with multiple other agencies, but who sits in that volunteer leadership role — particularly for an organization like SA2020 — is important. And in Sonia, the lawyer/mother/wife badass, we have someone who was willing to go the extra mile. She is the epitome of what our work is about: push to bring about positive results, then push harder.
San Antonio is better for her service to SA2020, and I am better for her leadership and friendship. San Antonio is made up of people like Sonia Rodriguez, and for that, I am eternally grateful and keenly aware that this is what sets our city apart from the rest.