Board membership is something that I almost never hear young professionals discuss. If I had to venture a guess why, I’d say that there is a perception held by many that it’s something you do later in your career when you’re older, wiser, more experienced, etc. This, however, couldn’t be farther from the truth.
While I’m sure there are other reasons that keep our generation from pursuing opportunities to serve on boards, there couldn’t possibly be one good enough to explain why we are so poorly represented on nonprofit boards. According to Board Source less than 2% of nonprofit board members are under 30 years old. In contrast, 57% of nonprofit board members are 50 and over.
That’s astonishing to me.
In 2009 I joined the board of the Cultural Academy for Excellence (CAFE). As a graduate of the program and former volunteer, I was more than excited to take on a leadership position within the organization. Over the last two years I’ve had the opportunity to jump in and get my hands dirty. It has been a great experience thus far, particularly since I joined prior to my shift into a nonprofit career as it has allowed me to gain valuable experience in the sector.
After a recent board meeting, I started thinking about my experience and why more of my peers aren't actively seeking opportunities to volunteer in such a capacity. Here are three reasons why I believe every young professional should serve on a nonprofit board:
1. Develop skills that you may not have the opportunity to develop at your job.
When you join a nonprofit board, it’s likely that you were selected because you have a background or skillset that is needed. That, however, doesn’t always mean that you’ll be forced to engage in activities that you find yourself doing at your day job. You will have the opportunity to select the committees and activities that you want to dedicate your time to, allowing you to develop new skills and utilize other talents you have.
For example: as a management consultant at my last job I discovered how much I enjoyed strategic planning, and it was something I wanted to continue doing wherever possible. Strategic planning is a skillset I now have and seek to develop further. While it’s not one that I can put to use on my new job, I have the opportunity to lead a committee on CAFE’s board developing our strategic plan. It’s a win-win situation.
2. Build your professional network.
Being on a nonprofit board allows you to interact with individuals who likely aren’t in your current professional network. Assuming the board you choose to serve on has a diverse array of professional backgrounds, you will have the opportunity to meet new people (both the members of the board and their network as you interact with them at events). By expanding your network in this way, you’ll discover that you have access to mentors and professional opportunities you otherwise wouldn't.
3. Develop a deeper understanding of what it takes to run a successful organization.
Serving on a board allows you to experience, first-hand, the operations of an organization at a high-level. Whether or not you strive to be a leader of a nonprofit organization, learning about and making decisions on governance, financial/accounting, ethics and legal issues is not something that most of us have the responsibility of doing - or opportunity to do - at our places of employment. It’s an experience that will truly develop your leadership skills and provide you with exposure that you wouldn’t otherwise gain at this stage in your career.
The above reasons are only three of many why you should be serving on a nonprofit board. What’s most important is that you begin to understand that not only is it possible for young professionals to join a board, it is imperative that we start getting a seat at the table. It's the only way we will increase the representation of board members under 30 from an abysmal 2%.
So what are you waiting for? Here are some resources to get you started:
- Articles and blog posts:
- Great resources from Idealist.org:
- Boardsource.org: a site dedicated to advancing the public good by building exceptional nonprofit boards and inspiring board service
- Board Life Matters: a national sounding board designed to inspire and engage the next generation in nonprofit board service
- Find board opportunities via Bridgestar and BoardNet
If you are aware of any other websites for finding board opportunities or great resources in general please share in the comments!
One shameless plug: The Cultural Academy for Excellence (CAFE) is a youth-based program which uses performing arts as the catalyst to develop the passion and discipline for learning, leadership, and academic achievement. To learn more about us, visit our website at www.cafeyouth.org. For more information on our concerts and other events, “like” us on Facebook, check out our calendar of events or – even easier – feel free to email me!