Board recruitment: How to attract younger members

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By Patrick Powers, CPA

Where are all the young people? Forget the myth that they are not civically minded. You will likely find many young people volunteering on committees or assisting with events and fundraisers. But the idea of serving on a board may not have occurred to them, or they aren’t sure if they have the skills or time to serve effectively.

Perhaps no one ever asked them.

Traditionally, board members have come from leading donors and companies and organizations that support a nonprofit — at management level. Pulling from this pool, however, doesn’t typically attract younger professionals or bring the diversity of opinion and experience necessary to remain innovative.

Let’s not mention the fact that many board members will be “retiring” in a few years.

Take a Gap Analysis.

Before you start recruiting, review your current board’s talents and skills to determine what you have and what could enhance them according to the mission, vision and strategic plan. For example, could you use someone with a background in event planning or someone who enjoys networking with donors? This analysis will give you a direction.

Start Internally.

Look to your volunteer pool, staff and the companies and organizations represented on your board. These individuals already have a connection and/or passion for your cause. Ask your staff and board members to recommend friends, family and young professionals whom they believe could make a difference. Invite these individuals to get involved on a committee or assist with an event to see if they would be a good fit down the road.

Put out the Word.

Let people know that you are recruiting for the board. In addition to general recruiting methods — word of mouth, newsletters — look to board or volunteer recruitment sites such as for recruitment ideas or to place announcements. Keep in mind that people in their 30s and younger are more likely to use online resources to learn about organizations, so add a page to your website about volunteer and career opportunities. Describe the level of commitment and skills you seek for effective board members. Communicate the benefits:

            •Enhanced financial knowledge

            •Résumé building

            •Networking opportunities

            •Leadership development

Encourage board members to become ambassadors by sharing their positive experiences at events or in the community.

Formalize the Process.

If you don’t already have one, develop job descriptions/summaries or a board handbook for candidates so there will be no surprises. Consider forming a recruitment committee for ongoing recruitment efforts. You might also form an adjunct board or advisory group of several young people to ease them into leadership among their peers without the immediate pressure of time commitments, voting and decision-making. In this way, you can immediately enjoy their fresh ideas and perspectives.

New board members will need coaching to feel effective, so schedule regular training sessions to address financial or oversight competency as well as group dynamics and decision-making. Open these sessions to volunteers or advisory groups to help them learn more.

Over the next few years, you will be well prepared to usher in new leadership at your organization.

Patrick Powers, CPA, is a principal in charge of the not-for-profit niche at Olsen Thielen and provides board training, strategic planning and consulting. 651-621-8539.


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