LaSpina: Know when to step aside from a volunteer leadership role

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By Dan Sears

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Volunteering as a leader or officer of a nonprofit organization is an admirable pursuit that many Long Island businesspeople find rewarding. Whether they chair the board of an industry-specific nonprofit, lead a community organization, or serve as an officer in the local chapter of a national charity, they can use their skills and passion to help the organization fulfill its mission and serve its constituents.

But serving in a leadership role takes time and dedication, and sometimes, after filling a role for an extended period, a volunteer may no longer have the same amount of time, energy or passion to continue doing their best work for the good of the organization. Often, people are reluctant to give up their volunteer role, whether due to guilt, ego, inertia or lack of an obvious successor. But one of the most important contributions a volunteer leader can make is knowing when to pass the reins to a new leader, who can bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm.

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I recently decided to retire from my role as chair of the board of Bowlers to Veterans Link, which raises money for recreational therapy programs and other services for veteran and active-duty service men and women.

My company, Rockville Centre-based Maple Family Centers, has long supported BVL, and I stepped into the chair of the board role in 2014.

As a former president of the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America, I have many long-standing relationships throughout the bowling industry. So I took those relationships, tapped on shoulders and got everyone involved in BVL. I expanded BVL into an industry-wide cause, including not only bowling center proprietors, but also manufacturers, distributors and vendors.

My contributions to the organization have included finding new paths to raise money. League bowlers have historically been big contributors to BVL, but in recent decades, there has been a national decline in league bowlers from about 8 million to 1 million. As chair, I led an initiative to incorporate a point-of-sale system for bowling centers, where customers can round up to the nearest dollar to support BVL, similar to supermarket charity fundraising programs. When you ask all customers to round up, you are getting contributions from a much larger population than just league bowlers.

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While I am very proud of my accomplishments as board chair, I believe BVL could benefit from new voices and ideas. I don’t believe that people should have jobs for life. I have been given a lot of volunteer leadership opportunities in various bowling trade industry organizations over the years, and I think it’s time to give someone else a chance to see what they can do. There was a time when I was the youngest person in the room, but now, at 75, I’m the oldest person in the room. I believe that when you’re a leadership volunteer, your responsibility is to do your job well, to groom others to take your place–and to know when to move on.

BVL is an amazing organization, and I plan to remain on the board and to support the new chair and the rest of the board. But I am happy to pass the reins to a competent new leader with fresh ideas and energy, who can hopefully take the organization to the next level.

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John LaSpina is president of Maple Family Centers, a third-generation family-owned and operated business that currently includes five bowling centers. 

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