Find your place to influence policy

by Matt Landers, Public Policy Manager
| Oct 12, 2018

“It goes way beyond empowering, and actually making me feel better about the world, that I have the ability to not just contribute to my community but to participate in a way that is meaningful, that my presence adds value.” Wendy Gillihan of Gryffin Consulting has served on many public boards and commissions, including the Washington Department of Revenue’s Business Advisory Council and co-chairing both the Seattle Women’s Commission and the Seattle Labor Standards Advisory Commission. She has volunteered significant time to advocate for women, small businesses, and other groups who are often left out of the decision-making process.

Public boards and commissions are an important element of the civic process, and offer a rewarding way for people to get involved in the policy-making process. Just like serving on a nonprofit board, serving on a public board or commission is a common way to give back to your own community. However, rather than just helping support a cause, volunteers are working to set policy and provide important advice to their municipal, county, and state governments. “Our region is unique in the ability to participate in the public process,” adds Gillihan, referencing the especially numerous commissions for the public to join.

Many GSBA members have served on a variety of commissions. An urban planner by profession, Marj Press is part of the Seattle Planning Commission, which is charged with stewardship of Seattle’s 20-year comprehensive plan that guides the city’s growth. “I wanted to offer my experience and skill set to the discussion about how Seattle will grow as we consider livability, equity, and social justice challenges,” she said. “Volunteering to serve in this capacity offers a depth and breadth of experiences and expertise that helps bolster the work of a local government entity.  It is personally and professionally gratifying to be able to support your community with your time and your passion.”

Chris Brown, a member of the Seattle LGBTQ Commission, add that “When I was approached to serve on the Commission, it was a great way to give back to the community where I grew up and to ensure there is a diverse set of voices with a depth and breadth of experience at the table.” Representing segments of the public, commissioners must also be willing to be a liaison between their communities and the government agencies. Brown says that engagement between commissioners and their communities is one of the most critical ingredients for success, both for the commission itself and for getting results to improve the lives and experiences of residents.

Who should become a member of a public board or commission? The answer is anyone who feels they have an experience worth sharing. Wendy Gillihan says that the people who contribute the most value are often those who would traditionally not be involved, or those who might hesitate to participate. “It makes a huge difference in what happens in the conversation. If you are having a conversation and people who can speak to the needs of communities who face barriers to participation like the trans community, people with disabilities, and immigrant communities, it allows those perspectives to be included when they likely would not be otherwise.”

“Participating in this kind of thing is not what I was raised to think was possible. It can be very uncomfortable, and you might be worried about how to express yourself in a way that works in that environment, but it’s worth overcoming those fears to be able to contribute to your community and raise the voices of the disenfranchised and ignored people in our communities. You can reclaim a sense of agency, which is really transformative. It doesn’t matter what issue is of interest to you, no matter how obscure. There are boards and commissions dealing with just about every aspect of life.”


If you are interested in learning more about openings on public boards and commissions, you can check out some of the listings below. Let GSBA know if the organization can help find the right place for you!