Board of Directors + Young People = YES!

If I were to ask you what the typical age range is for a nonprofit Board of Directors, what would you say?  If you answered between 40 and 70, you’re not too off the mark.  BoardSource’s 2012 Nonprofit Governance Index reported that only 2 percent of board members were under 30 years old while 43 percent were between 50 and 64. 

It’s no secret that most nonprofit boards are lacking in younger members.  Advocates for adding more young people to boards argue that they are passionate, have access to entirely new and different networks, and provide fresh ideas and viewpoints.  Opponents who wonder if adding young people is really necessary often ask how they would even go about recruiting a young person.

Baby Boomers are retiring at the rate of 10,000 per day.  This will continue through 2031.  I believe that the retirement of our current nonprofit leaders creates opportunities for young people to move in and up – but not without preparation. 

How can a young person learn how to be a good board member?  Rosetta Thurman’s piece, “From Entry Level to Leadership: How to Join a Nonprofit Board of Directors,” is an excellent starting point.  It encourages every young nonprofit professional to set a goal of joining a board of directors and explains how to go about it. 

My advice: start small.  If there’s an organization you’re already familiar with and passionate about, inquire about volunteering on a board committee.  While you’re not an actual board member, you’ll get to rub elbows with those who are and see how governance works.  When discussing potential new board members, your name might be one of the first in the hat if you’ve done your work well and produced results.    

I have learned from serving on the board of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network that you do not have to be at the peak of your career to be a valuable asset.  Diverse board members provide diverse perspectives, identifying all opportunities and risks.  Don’t count yourself out just because the current board doesn’t look like you.  Your ideas are worth more than you may think.     

Shameka Harrington is program assistant at the N.C. Center forNonprofits, where she began as a volunteer intern.  She is in her first year of service on the board of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. 

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