Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

December 16, 2013

‘An ideal to die for:’ Nelson Mandela’s commitment challenges volunteer leaders

Patti Gillenwater

“It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Nelson Mandela

This statement by Nelson Mandela during his 1964 trial crystalizes for me the difference in his world and the world in which most of us operate. As board members of mission-driven organizations, we bring our passion for our cause into the board room. This passion is why we lose sleep over concerns about the organizations we volunteer to serve and why we live up to our promises made as volunteer leaders.

I think it is safe to say that none of us are serving in board positions that put our lives in danger. Most of us have never drawn a line in the sand on an issue with the intent of putting our life on the line, if that was needed to move that ideal forward.

The life Nelson Mandela led is inspiring beyond anything I can write. As we reflect on our future service to the organizations that work hard every day to make this world a better place, embrace the opportunity to give of your life, and be thankful that you do not have to give your life or be prepared to die for the cause that is dear to you.

Happy holidays!

“During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” 

— Nelson Mandela speaking at the dock of the court, April 20, 1964 

Patti Gillenwater is CEO of Elinvar. A Philanthropy Journal sponsor, Elinvar is a retained search and leadership development firm that specializes in serving mission-driven organizations in North Carolina.

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