By Gerry Czarnecki
Heather Geronemus is one of Broward County’s young leaders, remaining constantly and actively involved with the South Florida community. In addition to all her volunteer work, Geronemus oversees media and community relations at Ultimate Software in Weston. This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
What was the first volunteer effort you can remember doing?
My earliest memory was influenced by my mother’s passion for supporting the National MS Society. I was probably less than 5 years old when I helped my mom to raise money for [multiple sclerosis research] on the “The Ugliest Bartender Contest.” When I talked about it, some thought the “ugly” was cruel, but it really meant “Understanding Giving Loving You.” My mom’s passion was inspiring, and the disease is so devastating, that through all these years, I have remained a volunteer for MS.
What was the first nonprofit board you joined? And, how did that happen?
The first board I joined was one where I worked to create the board. It was an advisory board for the local MADD chapter. We were doing a great deal of fundraising locally and decided we needed a “local board.” There is only one fiduciary board for MADD at the national level, so what we formed was an advisory board, committed to support our fundraising programs. I was not involved with MADD before I had the tragic experience of losing my dad to a drunk driver in 2009; I developed a great passion for the cause of eliminating deaths caused by drunk drivers.
I have remained heavily involved in MADD, chairing Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash Fort Lauderdale for eight years, and participated in some national events. One day, the board of MADD asked if I would consider joining the national board. By then, my commitment was so complete that I was honored to be asked, so eventually I became a board member.
This year, I was elected vice chair of the national board, so now I have the privilege of serving in a leadership capacity as well.
What other boards do you serve on?
I am on the Cystic Fibrosis [Foundation] advisory board, the Sheriff’s Foundation of Broward County board, the Winterfest board of directors, and I’m on the Pine Crest School’s board of trustees. On the Pine Crest board, I am unusual because, although I am an alumna of the school, I do not have children there. So I represent somebody who knows the past and works to assure the sustainability of the school for children of the future in the same way that the trustees did to allow me to experience the great education Pine Crest provides.
Of all your board experiences, did you ever have to deal with a crisis? What happened and what was the outcome?
I really have been blessed with not having any real crisis situations, but I just found out I will be facing a major organizational challenge on the largest board I serve on. The MADD board recently heard that our wonderful CEO has been attracted away by another organization, so we have to start the process of finding a new CEO. So I am going to be starting my tenure dealing with a leadership change, and will need to participate in perhaps the most important decision a board makes. As a board member, what advice do you have for those who want to participate in the nonprofit sector?
That is simple: Give of your time and treasure to the cause that has your passionate commitment. Volunteer, lead fundraising efforts, and if, one day, you are asked to serve as a board member, take that very seriously. The board owns the strategic direction [of the organization] and it must be committed to a sustainable future. It is an awesome responsibility to keep the mission and vision alive. ↵
Gerry Czarnecki is founder and chairman of the nonprofit National Leadership Institute (nationalleadershipinstitute.org), which helps boards of nonprofit organizations become strategic assets to the leadership team. His extensive background as a C-suite executive and CEO is coupled with current board leadership of corporate and nonprofit organizations. He is also chairman and CEO of the Deltennium Group. Contact him at 561.293.3726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.