Five surprising benefits I gained from joining a design board

In the fall of 2019, I received a kind email from a person I met years ago.


It was from the person who I met at the AIA (American Institute of Architects) Canada conference that happened in Toronto in 2017. He wanted me to get involved with the AIA Canada Chapter which consists of the US-licensed architects practicing in Canada.

Before the conference, I was curious why there was no AIA presence here in Canada considering many Canadian architects who studied and eventually got licensed in the US like me. One of the responses from architects here in Canada was that because it was so close to the US, there was no need for having a separate board presence here in Canada. According to him, we can all attend the AIA conferences happening somewhere in the US.

I did not agree with him.

Besides not wanting to spend time/money flying to the US only to get continuing education hours, I wanted to have a bigger reason for keeping the AIA membership.  Since the move from New York City to Toronto years ago, I was debating whether to renew my AIA membership… 

why pay for membership especially in US dollars and also to keeping up with continuing education (to keep the US license) hours for an organization which I don’t have any relationship to”. 

Now with the newly formed Canadian chapter, I found my reason for keeping the membership.

With the membership dilemma solved, I started having another debate about whether to serve on the board as one of the directors. There are many obvious benefits of joining the board: networking opportunities, boosting public profile, learning new skills…however, with these benefits, it also brings time considerable time commitments on my part.

I wanted to be honest with myself…especially about the WHY part; why I want to add one more project(?) to an already jam-packed schedule.

In the end, my ego won the argument (a.k.a. boosting public profile). That is how my involvement with the AIA Canada started January this year.

1. Huge help from national and international boards

Although there is a big-name recognition with the AIA, I did not think there would be much of connections between the AIA national and AIA international organizations and to the newly formed Canadian chapter, AIA Canada Society

I was wrong.

Not only receiving guidance on many of the how to’s of starting initiatives such as creating sponsorships, setting up continuing educations, etc, but there is also a huge financial help from the national/international organizations.

Now that I have been part of the Canadian board for some time, my initial thought on lacking the connection between our board with those organization is unfounded. It also indicates the big number of US-licensed architects here in Canada.

2. Board operation works the same as running an architecture practice

Turns out my fear of being extra busy with board work was only a theory, or an excuse (I made).

Having monthly board meetings with directors who come from different parts of Canada bring in diverse perspectives that can only enrich my professional experience as an architect and also a business owner running an architecture practice.

Recently at the board conference call, discussing the topic of design award guidelines gave me insights into our office marketing materials. Besides, getting the glimpse of “behind the picture” scene of design awards is an absolute must marketing knowledge every architect should know.

3. Making PERSONAL connections

Networking is a big word in any board settings.

It might be the single biggest reason why people are willing to spend their time to serve on boards. I admit it was one of my big reasons…although I am only meeting them through video calls since the board members are from different parts of Canada.

With the pandemic this year, the video calls would continue even with local board members for some time to come.

I knew the benefits of professional networking opportunities, however, what I didn’t anticipate was making the deeper personal connections with some board members.

A chance meeting a particular board member, Dora Ng who I had dinner with after the long conference Call back in January this year led to a few other dinners since then. While discussing board work and also learning about her background, I realized it was more than a networking relationship.

It was a nice surprise I did not expect when I initially joined the board.

4. AIA name helps with 100% email responses

I write many emails in a day.

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Some have to do with work, some personal and then some have to do with pitching ( aka wanting something from a person or company).

They are the “pitching” emails that take the most time and effort and also the dreaded waiting time…and constantly debating whether to follow up or wait longer, etc.

However, with the AIA letters attached to my new board email, I was getting a 100% percent response rate!

Recently I reached out to a professional contact (construction industry)I met. It was about whether he would be open to being a speaker for one of our events. I predicted he might be asked of those requests often considering he is a well-known person in the industry and thought I might not even hear from him! Or even worse- from his assistant!

He responded the next day! Himself, not the assistant!

5. Chance to make a difference in communities/ Profession

This last point is a big one. Huge one!

Maybe it is this “hugeness” I had difficulty relating to.

It is also the most common and politically correct description of most cover letters/or interviews that were given by people seeking to join boards. It would be difficult to say the reason for joining the board is to pat my resume, getting paid, getting recognition, etc. (I confess I have thought about those reasons).

Now going back to the huge reason for making difference in communities/profession.

I personally did not relate to this lofty and worthwhile goal…at least in the beginning. Maybe it sounded too big/difficult / or some marketing slogans everyone uses…Whatever it was, It was not something I was thinking too much of in the beginning.

I have to admit there has been a shift in my thinking since that time.

Over many board discussions, I realized It was my narrow and finite thinking that prevented me to have a different perspective:  

It is not about the size of the effort… but it is about each individual’s effort and COLLECTIVELY making the difference. 

Final thought

As the saying goes, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments, you make the better.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, 

I’m grateful for this new “ experiment” and also to the current President , Adam Pantelimon for thinking of me initially and giving me the opportunity.

The AIA Canada board is a new board that has been around only a few years old.

Personally, with only less than a year of experience, I have learned that The board enriched me far more with a different type of experience than what I have contributed so far.

What has been your new experiment, especially in this brand new/ never experienced phase of our time, pandemic in our lives?

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