A day in the life: Board chair

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It's hard to know what a job is really like until you actually do it. And with an increasing number of job titles and roles emerging in the sector, it's sometimes unclear what people do each day in their particular role. What skills do they use most often and how do they spend their time? What are the biggest challenges in their work? And what would they do differently to prepare for such a position, knowing what they know now? CharityVillage®'s A Day in the Life series gives you a glimpse into the professional lives of people working in a range of jobs in the nonprofit sector.

This month we'd like to introduce you to.....

Name: Brenda Rooney

Organization: Theatre Wakefield and Wakefield International Film Festival (WIFF)

Job title: Chair of the Board of Directors (Theatre Wakefield) and General Manager (WIFF)

Education: I was trained as an elementary school teacher and as a recreationist. I spent 10 years as a community worker, running community centres in London, England and Toronto, Canada. I was further trained on the job in marketing and publicity in the early 80's at Stratford Festival and then worked as director of communications in Toronto at the St. Lawrence Centre, at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in the US, and as a freelance events planner and trainer.

Previous jobs and related activity: I started out as a youth worker. In theatre I've held the following positions: director of marketing and communications, event producer, film producer, film sound recordist, interviewer, and production manager. I've also worked as the Wakefield Summer Film Camp director and the general manager of the WIFF. I still do many of these jobs, as an artist in a rural community I have many short "seasonal" jobs. You will notice that I started as a youth worker and now I am a summer film camp director working with teens and helping them to tell their stories. Life is often a cycle.

Key responsibilities: Communications and overseeing scattered team members. For example, at WIFF we have a publicist, designer, curator, webmaster, crew chief, and venue manager all working from home and coming together to make the event happen. My job as general manager is to ensure that we all know what we need to get done and who will do it. I am also the one that you go to if you are not going to succeed at whatever task you face.


6:00 a.m. Check email (read and respond to 20 on average every morning) and media alerts. Respond to clients and schedule meetings.
10:00 a.m. Check in with colleagues regarding deadlines, etc. Draft meeting agenda (at any time perhaps 15 people are working on two or three individual projects).
11:00 a.m. Program meeting: event planning discussion and strategy.
12:00 p.m. Lunch with colleagues and joined by Heritage Project Manager. Meeting regarding planning and schedule for project.
2:00 p.m. Check in with emails, manage unexpected requests from individuals, organizations, media, etc.
3:00 p.m. Write applications, proposals, notes and other documents. Or edit (on the computer) interviews for radio.

I spend most of my time... I don't like repetition, and it is one of the reasons I like working in theatre and film because each project is different. Each project is full of possibilities. So I have a great variety of activity in my work. I attend a lot of meetings and I spend a lot of time helping my board members complete their action items (things they agreed to do during the meeting). I also spend a lot of time doing research on the internet, checking how various websites are reacting to various marketing tools and contacting businesses and artists and suggesting connections, sponsorships, or joint ventures. I'm also responsible for making sure that the five or six volunteers who are doing the work on any given project are getting the information they need.

Three common challenges:

  1. Finding time for vision, creative thinking, respite.
  2. Sustainability. Keeping a balance between volunteer time and paid time so that we can continue for the long term.
  3. Ensuring that volunteers don't burnout, are assigned jobs they can be successful at, and can get the job done on time.

Most rewarding moments: Every project has one. At the Film Camp it's watching the participants show their films to their friends and families at a gala event. They are so proud and collegial. WIFF is always the night when the audience comes boiling out of the theatre and discusses and debates the film they have just seen. Some films create more of this than others but each year there is always one that does this best. I felt ready to burst with pride when the last play, Dreamwalker, which featured six teens from Film Camp, opened to wild applause at Theatre Wakefield. Actually if I were to give anyone advice I would say that if you involve yourself in the life of your community you will have multiple most rewarding moments. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Recommended education to get this job: I think it depends on the individual's talents. You could study social work, recreation, mental health, public health, political science, philosophy...anything that will teach you to think, analyze and plan.

Knowing what I know now: You just get started. There is always work to be done and most of us come up through the grass-roots. You need to know both the people you work with and the people you are serving. If you are running a campaign or running a film festival, knowing who you need to reach and how to find them is crucial. I find that if you are reasonably effective, generous of spirit and a good team player there is no shortage of opportunities to build leadership skills and grow in experience.

Help others with their career research and choices by sharing information about what you do. If you would like to be featured in A Day in the Life, please contact us at editor@charityvillage.com.

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