Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why your board needs me

Written by: Katie Valko

I write to you as a summer intern of the Constaré Group, LLC. Perhaps the junior title alone is enough justification for you to ignore my post but I urge you to keep reading for that very reason.

First, picture your organization’s board. How many of them look like me, that is to say, how many of them are younger than thirty? What about thirty-five? Still coming up short? Should this even matter to the success of your non-profit? Enter: me, the young intern here to argue that my generation can indeed make a positive impact on your board and in your organization.

The Facts
The discussion of board diversification with respect to age is no novel topic. Non-profit gurus have been debating the pros and cons of young board members for years. The 2007 Nonprofit Governance Index reported a mere 2% of board members under the age of 30. On the other hand, 62% are 50 or over. Accordingly, 36% are between 30 and 50 years old.

Obviously, the soaring representation by the over-50 set is logical. These individuals bring the kind of wisdom and experience that only comes with time. Presumably, they have served on the organization’s front lines. Now they help steer important boardroom decisions based on past successes and failures- experiences the younger age brackets can only dream of having. These young folk probably lack the kind of wisdom, skills and - let’s face it - fiscal resources to be significant contributors to your board. This mindset justifies why aggressive recruitment of Generation Xers and Millennials is slow at best.

What I have a hard time justifying is the glaring disparity in age distribution within the board. Why so heavy for over-50s? Can’t we have a trickle-down effect to better represent all ages?

Why Older Members
Let’s think about this: Generation Xers are roughly between the ages of 30-50, implying a stage in life where family and work take priority over all else, including your organization. This being the case, a leadership role with non-profits probably takes a backseat to family or work commitments. If an evening board meeting means missing your kid’s soccer game or work travel means you don’t have free time, we know where loyalties lie.

Not to suggest they do not care about your organization- no, quite the opposite. It is simply a matter of time, or a lack thereof, which points to two conclusions: (1) you should recruit more board members over this age window and (2) you should look for new members below this window.

Why Try the Younger Set?
Obviously, I am interested in the latter notion. The “under-thirty” crowd would seem to have more free time, without major family commitments. Moreover, this group represents the largest generational demographic since the Baby Boomers. If they (and by “they” I mean “we”) have a high presence in the community, shouldn’t that be reflected in your boardroom?
A lot of the opposition I have read regarding young board members is that their pockets simply do not run deep enough. While it is certainly true that one of the main functions of the board is raising money, we at Constaré preach to the three T’s: Time, Talent, and Treasure.

What we lack in Treasure, we can make up for in Time and Talent. We are the people who will step up with enthusiasm saying, “I can do that” or “I’ll spend time with those who are being served” whereas the board veterans are your key players for picking up the tab from time to time or for understanding their duty to give money on an annual basis. Both parties are giving back to the board and the organization, are they not? In every sense of the word, it is the “giving back” culture of a board that enables a nonprofit to do great things.

You’re going to want some fresh meat, right out of college or further studies. The business majors, like me, have fresh ideas and a keen understanding of modern business practices to kick your organization into high-performing gear and get it up-to-date with modern times, best practices, sustainable measures, savvy technology, accountability and other current buzz words in the business world. The potential board members from other educational focuses bring very similar knowledge, not to mention a level of technological savvy unique to my generation. Regardless of where we focused our studies, having a younger, results-oriented board member will also open your organization to a new network of volunteers and tribe members.

Still skeptical? Perhaps you can try a similar alternative such as a young friend group or allow us to be on a special advisory board or some sort of nonvoting body; just be sure that whatever you choose to do you make the expectations and commitments.

Sure, we will soon hit that phase in life where family and work take the reins but you might as well get all the energy, ideas and smarts out of us before that time his. The clock is ticking. Shake off the “like me” bias that too often narrows the scope of the applicant pool. Why aren’t you recruiting yet?

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