Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Younger Board Members

There's been a bit of an online discussion recently about why nonprofit boards don't have younger members.

Emily Hearst had an excellent post on her Board Life Matters blog, titled Why Don't More Members of GenX and GenY Join Boards? which got a great response. Then, Rosetta Thurman took her turn in her post titled Do Nonprofit Boards Really Want Younger Members? on the Chronicle of Philanthropy site. Both posts make excellent points, but I'm compelled to add my 2.0 cents here.

First, as is well known, boards, if left alone, tend to recruit themselves (i.e., people who look, act, think, live, etc. as they do). Thus, it's important for board recruitment to be a joint board-staff's the only way to break out of the homogeneity bubble.

Second, many senior staff have come to depend more and more on boards either primarily or solely for fund raising. (As an aside: This is a very, very bad thing. When boards are concerned only with development, they aren't concerned enough about planning, strategy, financial oversight, etc.) With this increased emphasis on boards as a conduit for incoming cash, staff make the assumption that the board members need to be rich--and that only older people have, or have access to, money.

Wrong--just look at the texting response to Haiti. Younger people bring huge networks of friends and associates with them. They (and their friends) are nearly bottomless resources of volunteering and donations--even if only in small amounts individually.

Lastly, boards often don't have two-three-four board slots open at once, and younger people tend to stick together. Imagine, if you were 28 and invited to join a board whose average age was 58, how you'd feel, particularly if you were the only face under 50 in the room....oh goody, I joined my parent's Rotary Club......

We DO need to age down on our boards, and we need to do it soon. Age diversity needs to have the same priority as other kinds, and it's just as difficult to achieve. But that doesn't mean we don't need to get to work and try.

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