Anyone who volunteers for a community organization can tell you how good it feels to contribute to a cause that you care about. But businesspeople know that giving time and energy to community groups can also bring business benefits.
Greg Blair, owner of Nottingham Insurance in Hamilton, has volunteered all his life and says the experience is well worth the time on many levels. Blair, together with Dolores Kelley, a Stark & Stark lawyer and MidJersey Chamber of Commerce executive committee member, will give a presentation to the MidJersey Chamber’s Young Professionals Connective on how to get involved with community organizations. The event will take place Tuesday, November 28, from 8 to 10 a.m. at the MidJersey Chamber of Commerce training room, 423 Riverview Plaza in Trenton. Cost: $10. For more information, visit www.midjerseychamber.org, call 609-689-9960, ext. 15, or e-mail stephanie@MIDJerseychamber.org.
Blair is a fourth-generation partner at Nottingham Insurance on Route 33 in the Golden Crest Corporate Center. He says he was raised to volunteer his time ever since he was a kid, with his parents and grandparents taking him to do arts and crafts with special needs kids, and helping the Special Olympics with soccer clinics.
Blair launched his first major community project in 1994, when he was 30. He had been president of the Robbinsville Rotary Club for two weeks when a young child, Megan Kanka, was murdered. Blair raised money to buy the home of her murderer, raze it, and turn it into a park on Barbara Lee Drive in Hamilton. Megan’s Place opened in 1995. “The site where she was murdered is now a peaceful place where people can go and reflect on their lives,” he says. Blair is still on the board of Megan’s Place.
Blair says this project led other groups to seek his assistance.
“When you become known in a community, other organizations reach out to you, and then it’s just a matter of how many you want to be involved in,” he says. It turns out Blair wants to be involved in quite a few.
He joined the Hamilton Partnership, a business development group, in 1997. In 2002 he joined the board of the charitable foundation at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, where he helped raise $3 million for a pediatric center. In 2004 he helped organize the Miracle League of Mercer County, which builds accessible fields where special needs kids can play baseball. In 2007 he joined the 200 Club, a group that provides immediate financial help to the families of first responders who die in the line of duty. He is now the president of that organization. In addition to all that, he is a member of Riders for a Cause, a cancer charity, and the MidJersey Chamber of Commerce, and that’s not a complete list.
“Once you get involved, and have a passion for it, you really don’t see any other way of doing business,” Blair says.
Being involved in community groups is an advantage for anyone who runs a business, since people like to do business with people they are familiar with. Making friends and building a good reputation in the community can lead to establishing business relationships. “Naturally, if people see you doing good things, it builds good character and you form good relationships,” Blair says.
Even if someone doesn’t have deep roots in a town like Blair does in Hamilton, joining a community group is usually a simple process. Blair recommends going to an event hosted by the group you are interested in and tell them you would like to be involved. “I don’t know of anyone who ever asked the question, ‘what can I do? I want to be involved,’ being told, ‘no,’” Blair says.
Blair recommends picking a group that is doing something you are passionate about. “You need to pick groups that you believe make a difference in the community,” he says. It should also be a group with meetings and events that do not conflict with your own schedule. It’s a waste of time to join a group and then not participate due to scheduling problems.
For most groups, no special skills are required, although some organizations want their board members to have the skill of writing big checks. Blair recommends that once you are involved, you should offer to lead projects. “They just want to see that you’re the kind of person who isn’t afraid to roll up your sleeves and step into the ring with them,” he says.
Blair especially encourages early-career professionals to get involved. Groups are always looking for younger members with new ideas and who can connect to the younger generation. His own idea for a Megan Kanka memorial park came out of the blue, but he won support for it and was successful. Blair thinks that other people joined him because they could see how much he cared about the project and how dedicated he was to getting it done.
“Don’t be afraid to get involved,” Blair says.