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Finding Chemistry In The Boardroom Through Speed-Dating


The non-profit boardroom isn't the first place you'd think of going to find chemistry. But non-profit leaders will tell you when you have a good board, you've got a set of people with a passion for the group's work and the skills to make sure it's carried out properly. New blood is always a plus. Charlotte's Arts and Science Council is taking a novel approach to making sure non-profits and those interested in leadership positions find the right partners. The Arts and Science Council has become a matchmaker of sorts. Robert Bush with the ASC stands at the front of a crowded room "We are going to begin the first rotation now. I think everyone's at their spot and let the games begin," he says as a bell rings. Welcome to what the ASC calls "Speed Dating with Cultural Institutions." Thirty non-profits representing the arts, sciences and history are set up at tables throughout the room. They include established groups like the Charlotte Symphony and smaller organizations that are just starting up. On the sidelines, thirty-one would-be board members set off to make their first move. They're all going through a training class the ASC offers to prepare people to serve on boards. Every ten minutes they switch tables. "It's exhilarating because you're fighting the bell and there are some tables you're waiting for the bell to ring and some you're like, 'Oh no, don't ring.' I can only imagine how real speed dating for dating is," says Dawn Cloutier. She's a performance facilities manager at CPCC. Cloutier has her eye on arts groups involving kids. She's done her homework on the group's she's assigned to meet with and has come with questions. But just like any dating situation Cloutier knows there's the potential for uncomfortable moments. To help avoid that, there's one thing she's not asking. "There's a financial question, like how much they expect you to contribute. But I didn't necessarily want to ask. It's an awkward question, you know." Overseeing the day's proceedings is Katherine Mooring with the ASC. In her five years of conducting this event, she's become adept at the not-so-gentle nudge of the matchmaker. She got the speed dating idea from a group in Portland and thought it would work with the ASC's course on leadership training. The class includes sessions on fundraising, civic engagement, and, of course, finding the right board to serve on. Mooring says she designed the class to address concerns she was hearing from non-profits. "They were having difficulty finding new, fresh, younger board members, rather than pulling from the same group of people year after year," says Mooring. "With so many newcomers coming to Charlotte this was a way that people could get connected and move into leadership roles a little more easily than having to navigate that path all on their own." The class has helped to match more than 150 people with cultural organizations, several through introductions at speed dating. Heather McNatt knows the ropes. She's actually done speed-dating before, the real kind, and likes this variation of it. "It's a great opportunity to really get to know someone and you can pretty much tell pretty quickly whether or not it's going to be a good fit, if you know what I mean," laughs McNatt. McNatt, who does marketing for Presbyterian Healthcare, sits down to talk with the group Playing For Others. "My personal passion is the visual arts," she tells them. "Growing up I always thought I would want to be an artist and then pretty early-on I realized I should better leave that as a hobby and not make a profession out of it. That's where my creative outlet is and where my passion is. So I think arts education is very important for youth growing up." Ten minutes later the session ends. "All right, well there's the bell," says McNatt. "I guess we've run out of time, but it was wonderful to meet you both." "It was such a pleasure to meet you." These quick dates may lead to a few lunches, some longer conversations, and, then, hopefully some good matches.