Guest MINDSETTER™ Rebecca Kagan: Why Young Professionals Should Join Nonprofit Boards
Monday, September 03, 2012
If you’re like many of the young professionals I know, you sometimes struggle with figuring out how to ‘do well while doing good’ – how to make a difference while also supporting yourself.
And yet, most young professionals never take advantage of one of the best options available to them – serving on the Board of Directors of a nonprofit. We imagine that board members should be in their 50s or 60s, with many decades of experience under their belts. It’s certainly not something to do as a young professional, right?
Wrong! Joining a board as a young professional is a great thing to do! It gives you the opportunity to make a real difference in a cause you care about. Regardless of whether you’ve worked in a for-profit or a non-profit, you’re a good fit if you’re skilled and passionate about making change. In fact, there’s plenty of need for new board members – especially young board members. According to a survey published by Boardsource.com in 2010, only 2% of nonprofit board members are under 30 and only 14% are under 40. This lack of diversity is detrimental to the nonprofit community, and so nonprofits have started recruiting young professionals to join their boards.
This is a great opportunity! There are lots of advantages to being on a board when you’re in your twenties or thirties. Some of the main ones are:
1. There’s a huge amount you can learn.
First and foremost, joining a board is a fantastic learning opportunity. You’ll be given the chance to see what it takes to make an organization run on a higher level. You’ll join projects and committees that could be completely different from your day-to-day activities at work. What better way to learn about nonprofit governance, management, finance, administration, human resources, ethics, fundraising, legal issues and much more!
2. You’ll have a chance to hone your leadership skills.
No organization wants quiet board members. Once you’re on that board, you’ll most likely be encouraged to take on a set of real responsibilities. You can also learn about facilitation and consensus building – both from watching other board members, and doing it yourself!
3. It’s a great opportunity for mentoring and building your network.
If you join a board, you’ll be crossing paths with a whole community of nonprofit and for-profit professionals who you’d never have met at work. As a young board member, you’ll also be in the perfect position to receive wisdom and mentorship from the more experienced members. They’ll be invaluable resources and connections both personally and professionally.
4. You can follow your passion and give back to the community.
Most importantly, joining a board is great because it lets you give back in the way you want to. Let’s face it – when you’re picking a job, you’re bound by salary, hours, locations, and a thousand other details. As a board member, you’re free to join whatever cause is closest to your heart and motivates you the most. If your day job feels slow or frustrating, or you wish you could have greater impact, joining a board is the perfect thing for you to do. You’ll be given real responsibility and have an opportunity to make a difference with a cause you care about.
Having young people on boards is a win-win solution for you and the nonprofit! You’ll be able to bring different skills and ideas to the table – whether it’s an expertise with social media, comfort with technology, business savvy from the for-profit world, untapped youth networks, or simply a new angle. You have plenty to offer a nonprofit board.
Now that you know this, what’s stopping you? Some remaining concerns might be:
1. “I’m too young to be on a board – I’m not qualified.” False! There is no minimum age for being on a board. Several friends of mine joined boards in college – or even in high school – and found it to be hugely beneficial for both them and the nonprofits. You don’t have to have worked in the sector for decades to be an asset to an organization.
2. “I don’t know where to find a nonprofit that wants me. I don’t even know where to begin!”
Luckily, this last problem is easily solved! To help you out, The Rhode Island Foundation and New Roots Providence are holding a series of events called Energizing the Sector, designed to meet this need.
At the first event, on September 27, 2012, a panel of young professionals like yourself who hold positions on boards will describe their experiences – what they’ve learned, what they’ve contributed, and why they recommend that you get involved.
By this point, you could be convinced that being on a board would be a fantastic experience – but how will you find the right nonprofit? Look no further! On October 18, there will be a meet and greet with nonprofits in the Community & Economic Development arena interested in having young professionals on their board. There, you can talk directly to board members of various nonprofits, and find a cause that strikes your interest.
Still wondering what being on a board actually entails? On October 25, The Rhode Island Foundation will be hosting a Board 101 training – covering basic information about the responsibilities of being on a board, and how you can be a good board member from the start.
By the end of these events, you’ll have talked to other young professionals, found nonprofits interested in working with you, and learned exactly what your responsibilities would be. Joining a board couldn’t be easier than that!
For more information about these events, click here.