Committee, commission, board, and other advisory positions can provide excellent and diverse ways for individuals to get involved with nonprofit organizations and related organizations and interests that they have a passion for. Many of these members and participants maintain their full-time employment while serving their organizations in these capacities.
Lou Pullano is on the Sports Advisory Committee of the Rhode Island Sports Commission (while also chairing the Center for Sports/Entertainment/Event Management at Johnson & Wales!), and he recounts his vast experiences in his role and in related areas here.
What is your background in terms of education, previous and current employment, and anything else that you think contributed to where you are today?
“I have been very involved in sports my entire life and was involved in varsity sports during high school and in college. Upon graduating high school, I began my college career at Rhode Island Junior College (now The Community College of Rhode Island) before moving on to the University of Rhode Island where I was the team captain of the baseball team before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in physical education. Upon graduating, I taught for 18 years in West Warwick [Rhode Island] and always thought teaching would be something that I would be doing for the rest of my life.
“In the early ’90s, my goals started to change a bit, and in 1994 I had the opportunity to become an associate director of athletics for Rhode Island Junior College. It was a pretty dramatic shift from the teaching realm to the administrative realm, and, with it being my second stint at the institution, there was another shift from my experiences there as a student to my being there in a professional capacity.
“I was employed at Rhode Island Junior College from 1994 – 2009 and wore a number of ‘hats’ during my time there. I started my tenure as an associate director of athletics and ended it as the associate vice president for enrollment management, athletics, and student life. I also had the opportunity to serve as the department chair for physical education. It was a great journey for me! During my time at Rhode Island Junior College, I was involved in a number of different national associations (professional, sports, and higher-education related) that helped me to grow as a professional and to network in the industry of higher education in a number of different areas.
“In 2009, I joined Johnson & Wales University in a teaching capacity (back where I started!) in the sports entertainment and event management department. After three years of teaching for JWU, I was asked to take on what is now my current role as the department chair (back to the administrative area!). I also currently serve as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) faculty athletic representative for the university, where I work to ensure academic integrity in athletic department. “
How did you decide to get involved with Rhode Island Sports Commission?
“The Rhode Island Sports Commission is an arm of The Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau and those serving in the athletic director capacity or higher are ‘resourced’ into positions like mine. Being a former high school coach and athlete, I am able to provide perspective from ‘both sides of the fence’ on sports-related matters within the community. I feel very passionately about anything that is related with sports since they have a very important role in our culture, especially with younger people and especially for people who are looking for a ‘vehicle’ to demonstrate a particular skillset or as a means to continue their education (college athletics). I look back on my experience and recognize sports as being that vehicle for me, and serving on the Rhode Island Sports Commission was a great opportunity to give back to the community. It also helps when these types of organizations bring in people who are ‘in the soup’ since they can provide first-hand outlooks and experiences. Having knowledgeable board members and other key professional and volunteer leaders keeps the organization relevant and gives the organization better opportunities to provide successful outreach into the community.”
What are your major tasks with the Rhode Island Sports Commission? Do you have any regular tasks or are your obligations more irregular?
“My involvement is more informal because it’s mainly about generating ideas and bringing ideas to fruition. Any time you get involved with these organizations in any capacity, though, it is important to view yourself as an ambassador for that organization within the community. I recently had the opportunity to speak alongside some prominent local collegiate athletes to a group of at-risk youth in the population about different opportunities to attend college. Sports opportunities were talked about extensively as vehicles. These aren’t every day kinds of events, and I really enjoy these kinds of interactions and community-involvement opportunities.”
How has your background prepared you for your current roles, tasks, and positions?
“My ability to reflect upon my own sports and leadership experiences helps in interactions with people on these topics in a confident way. I love to use the phrase, ‘This is my story. If I can do it, any one of you can!’ I think that this is a very important message when working with or in nonprofit organizations. If those you are reaching out to or working with feel as though you have ‘walked among them,’ I think the message is much more easily accepted.”
Do you have any future outlooks for the Rhode Island Sports Committee and for sports-related third-sector organizations?
“I have a positive outlook, but there is a fine line. There are many organizations that have great intentions, but criticisms arise that they are using their (tax-exempt) status in order to get out of paying taxes. This is an area that organizations should confidently address.
“Specifically regarding sports, so many organizations are outsourcing to and working with nonprofits these days. Sentiment and interest in community responsibility and outreach has been growing around a number of professional and college teams. Teams are reaching out to communities in more extensive ways. Many professional teams are creating their own affiliated nonprofits or are partnering with existing nonprofits to further their reach into communities. Considering sports is a $250 billion industry in the US ($500 billion worldwide), there is definitely a wide reach.
“Additionally, I have noticed from observing and talking with my students that younger generations have embraced nonprofits and are very supportive of the future of nonprofits.”
What do you think that people who are interested in getting involved with nonprofit committee and related work can do to prepare themselves for the kinds of service that you engage in?
“Before committing to any type of position or work, there has to be a process of self-reflection. There has to be a true passion (by the individual) for the particular committee and/or for the organization’s mission. You can’t be passive about getting involved or doing it only to ‘check some boxes.’ There is a large time commitment involved.
“It is also important to know the mission of the committee and of the organization in order to make sure that passions are properly aligned. However, if you do have the time and do have the passion, this kind of involvement may be one of the greatest experiences that you can have!”