Can you have too many young people on your board? Ummmm, YES!

young professionalsEvery time I hear a donor from a community’s “old guard” lament about no one taking their place and wishing organizations would start recruiting younger, up-and-coming professionals, I can’t help be smile. Why? Because in my experience, it is usually the same crowd who laments that a board of young professionals:

  • lacks fundraising experience
  • doesn’t possess a good network
  • can’t write big checks

This is the classic definition of “You can’t win.” Which begs the question . . . “What should non-profits do about this?
Obviously, it is in every organization’s best interest to recruit young professionals and the leaders of tomorrow. The following are a few thoughts and suggestions that I’m sharing because I hope it will inspire additional discussion inside your board development/governance committee meetings.
Develop an Associates Board
Many organizations are currently trying to engage young professionals by developing structures like a junior board (aka associates board). If you’re interested in doing something similar, here are a few things I might suggest:

  • Be clear in defining roles & responsibilities by developing a committee charter and written volunteer job descriptions. It is important that your associates board knows that the corporate board is responsible for governance and not them.
  • Make sure the associates board has things to do. No one joins anything nowadays to do nothing. You’ll need activities to engage these individuals.
  • Incorporate networking opportunities into your associates board activities. Young professionals are looking to build their networks, and this will benefit your agency at a later date if they end up joining your board.
  • Design a mentor program where young volunteers are mentored by better connected and influential board members, donors and supporters of your organization. Again, this will only benefit your agency down the road if you ask them to join your board.

Embrace diversity
Not up for creating yet another organizational structure? I hear ya! If this is the case, then embrace the idea of diversity.
Usually, when I see situations like I described in the opening paragraph, it is because an organization went crazy and recruited lots and lots of young people to serve on their board.
It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing kind of proposition. Be smart about board development by identifying, targeting and recruiting a small handful of up-and-comers in your community.
Baby Boomer volunteers are at the top of their game (e.g. their life, their career, their earning potential, etc) and should compose the majority of your board. However, it would be healthy for your agency in my opinion to fill between 10% and 25% of your boardroom table with GenX and Millennial board members.
When bringing young board members onto a mature board, don’t just throw them to the wolves. Similar to my suggestions in the previous section:

  • establish a mentor program
  • make a point of introducing them to your donors
  • go with them on fundraising calls and teach them how to cultivate, solicit and steward

Is your organization struggling with this young versus old board volunteer dynamic? If so, how are you dealing with it? Do you  have advice for those agency’s who zealously recruited too many GenX and Millennial board members and now suffer criticism from their community’s old guard? We can all learn from each other. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847