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Generation gap, Part 4

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By Todd Cohen

Exceptional boards “see the correlation between mission, strategy and board composition,” seek diversity in terms of “personal and professional backgrounds and experiences,” and “welcome differing voices and an array of perspectives,” says “The Source: Twelve Principles of Governance That Power Exceptional Boards,” a 2005 publication of BoardSource.

Those boards “are acutely aware of the need for members who possess knowledge of the nonprofit sector, superior financial acumen, ability to secure funding, and personal characteristics and experiences that positively enrich group interaction,” The Source says. “They also use board composition as a strategy to increase understanding of their constituencies and community needs.”

Sandra Hughes, a consultant on nonprofit governance in Sarasota, Fla., says nonprofits should complete a “matrix” that identifies attributes, skills and experience of board members.

Nonprofit then should examine whether the board truly represents the community and, based on the organization’s mission, develop a model that fills any gaps and creates the most effective board.

“Think of creative ways to set up an organizational structure that is inclusive,” she says.

That might include a youth advisory group, founders council, past president’s group or planned-giving group.

Nonprofits also should develop fundraising strategies that engage each generation, she says.

“The three best fundraising techniques are cross-generational,” she says, including the sale of Girl Scout cookies; running and walking events; and reunions.

Lynne Lancaster, a partner in Sonoma, Calif., for BridgeWorks, a Minneapolis-based research and consulting firm that focuses on generational issues, says nonprofits should overcome stereotypes about each generation, understand the forces that shaped them, and develop strategies to engage them by playing to their strengths.

While Millennials are viewed as “just kids,” for example, the area “already giving and volunteering, and there are 76 million of them,” she says. “Why take a look at ways to involve them and create a lifelong relationship.”

Gen Xers are viewed as “hard to engage and not very loyal,” she says, yet the “reality is they’re determined to have a work-life balance and spend time with their families,” so nonprofits should develop family-based board activities and consider shorter board assignments and alternative meeting times.

Baby Boomers are seen as hard workers who will “always be around,” she says, but many of them are burning out, so boards should “focus on bringing in some new faces and give Boomers a break.”

And while Traditionalists are known for giving their money, not as many give their time, so nonprofits should find ways to invite them in, particularly at the “critical transition point when people are retiring and are looking to redefine their identity and may be willing to come and redefine that identity with you,” she says.

“We need to understand the influences that shape each generation,” she says, “and some of the traits they tend to exhibit and the preferences they have for how they want to take part.”


Other stories in the series:

Part 1: Nonprofits face challenge engaging different age groups.
Part 2: Boards seen as under-performing nonprofit asset.
Part 3: Greater generational diversity seen as key to expanding talent pool.

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