Three Benefits of a Youthful Board

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Mary Lyn Albritton and Teddi Burnett 

As a land-grant university, NC State is committed to providing students hands-on, highly-engaged learning opportunities AND to providing research that is of direct, practical use to the fields we work in. Philanthropy Journal proudly presents the latest in a series of evidence-based resource articles developed by Dr. Amanda J. Stewart‘s masters level Management of Nonprofit Organizations classes. These articles represent a perfect overlap of engaged learning and practical research.

Looking at the future of board development, it’s time for us to think outside the box. Nonprofits cannot succeed without an effective, diverse board built for the future of the organization, yet many boards are not representative of the patchwork society of America.[1] In the past few years, steps have been made to create boards that are more ethnically and culturally diverse. Although there is still much to do in this arena, we would like to add another element of board diversity: age/experience. Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices found that, “only 17% of board members were under the age of 40.”[2]

Bringing inexperienced or youthful board members into the fold may seem counterintuitive – Can they contribute to the success of the organization? Can they be leaders? Are they dedicated? These are some important questions to consider when thinking of adding new members, however, according to our research, the benefits of adding younger board members can outweigh the concerns. Emily Bruce, VP of Development at Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, NC, gives a successful example of how a youthful board can be effective in the present and long-term success of a nonprofit.  

What Can Inexperienced Board Members Bring to the Table?

Innovative Thinking

At Marbles, Bruce offers guidance for strategically selecting new board members. Instead of calling on the C-Suite, she asks for the “rising stars of local companies.” Marbles does not choose board members based on “powerhouse names or companies,” instead, choosing those who have experienced Marbles and are “motivated by our mission and interested in helping us further the work that we are doing.”[3] New board members, regardless of age and experience, may be unsure about how to contribute to an organization in meaningful ways.  A nonprofit should empower their board to be creative and proactive in their involvement regardless of the size of their contribution. In her article addressing inclusive boards, author Ruth McCambridge suggests that board members should be empowered to do what interests them most in order to make the most significant impact.[4]  Bruce notes that one board member, who is not particularly wealthy or influential, pledged $1000 over time. Bruce states that her $1000 is worth more to them knowing she worked hard to make it possible.

Eagerness to Lead

A young board can bring new life to an organization. Bruce states of her young board: “For many of our board members, it’s their first opportunity to be a board member.” These new members “are eager to show leadership and get involved and get others involved.”[5] Though boards should be tailored to the needs of each nonprofit, with experienced board members, there is the risk of stagnation. Being on more than one board at a time or having been a board member for years can create an apathetic atmosphere. Bringing in new members from “various backgrounds and experiences, both professional and personal… add to the quality of the board.”[6] For Marbles, those rising stars who join “are hungry to make a difference.”[7]

Actively Engaged

Adding inexperienced board members can increase board involvement in the everyday trials faced by nonprofits. McCambridge notes “younger generations want to connect to the mission [and] actively serve the community.”[8] Bruce’s board is engaged in the daily and long-term successes and hardships that come with board membership as opposed to older, more static boards which could have “been there, done that” blasé attitude. By focusing on present needs, young board members are able to actively engage with the organization’s future goals through involvement with development, programs, and diligent communication. Bruce believes a part of the success of her young board is their communication. The board primarily communicates through a group text where board members are constantly asking, “What can we do to help Marbles?” instead of the other way around.[9]

What Does This Mean for Your Organization?

Consider your organization’s needs, composition, and level of stability before seeking new board members. However, nonprofits should not shy from new members’ inexperience. Organizations seeking to bring new members can start gradually, adding young members and assigning them a mentor for their first year as practiced by The United Way of Abilene.[10] The orientation of new members is a chance to speed up the learning curve and get them quickly engaged in the board’s activities and culture.[11]

Build a Better Board suggests, “the best way to uncover great potential board members is to enlist the help of your board’s most engaged, most active members.”[12] With this, the cycle of involved, eager, and engaged board members can perpetuate itself, contributing to the current and future success of the organization.

Bruce’s final encouragement when considering a younger board is, “Focus on the positive!” Think of the positive impact a younger board can have on your organization- innovative thinking, eager leadership, and active engagement. Take a chance, who knows? It may be the best decision your organization has ever made!


BoardSource. “101 Board Basics: Benefiting from Diversity.” Build a Better Board, 2013. http://www.buildabetterboard.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/benefitingfromdiversity.pdf.

“101 Board Basics: Board Orientation.” Build a Better Board, 2013. http://www.buildabetterboard.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/boardorientation.pdf.

Bruce, Emily. Marbles Interview with VP of Development, March 16, 2018.

“Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices.” Leading With Intent, 2017. https://leadingwithintent.org/.

McCambridge, Ruth. “Making Your Board More Inclusive: Two Cases| Nonprofit Quarterly.” Non Profit News | Nonprofit Quarterly, February 20, 2018. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2018/02/20/making-board-inclusive-boardsource/.

The Bridgespan Group. “Recruiting and Vetting Nonprofit Board Members.” Bridgestar, 2009. http://www.buildabetterboard.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Recruiting-and-Vetting-Nonprofit-Board-Members.pdf.


[1] Robert D. Herman, and David O. (David Owen) Renz, The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management, Fourth edition. (Hoboken, New Jersey: Jossey-Bass & Pfeiffer Imprints, Wiley, 2016), 152., Ruth McCambridge, “Making Your Board More Inclusive: Two Cases| Nonprofit Quarterly,” Non Profit News | Nonprofit Quarterly, February 20, 2018, https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2018/02/20/making-board-inclusive-boardsource/.
[2] “Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices,” Leading With Intent, 2017, https://leadingwithintent.org/.
[3] Emily Bruce, Marbles Interview with VP of Development, March 16, 2018.
[4]  McCambridge, “Making Your Board More Inclusive.”
[5] Bruce, Marbles Interview with VP of Development.
[6] BoardSource, “101 Board Basics: Benefiting from Diversity,” Build a Better Board, 2013, http://www.buildabetterboard.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/benefitingfromdiversity.pdf.
[7] Bruce, Marbles Interview with VP of Development.
[8] McCambridge, “Making Your Board More Inclusive.”
[9] Bruce, Marbles Interview with VP of Development.
[10] McCambridge, “Making Your Board More Inclusive.”
[11] BoardSource, “101 Board Basics: Board Orientation,” Build a Better Board, 2013, http://www.buildabetterboard.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/boardorientation.pdf; McCambridge, “Making Your Board More Inclusive.”
[12] The Bridgespan Group, “Recruiting and Vetting Nonprofit Board Members,” Bridgestar, 2009, http://www.buildabetterboard.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Recruiting-and-Vetting-Nonprofit-Board-Members.pdf.


Authors:

Mary Lyn Albritton is a recent graduate of the M.A. Public History program at NC State. She is passionate about museums, historical interpretation, and working with children. In her free time, she enjoys playing with her rescue dachshund, Toby, and learning to cook gourmet meals.

 

Teddi Burnett is also a recent graduate of North Carolina State University’s MA in Public History program. Teddi is a dedicated student of the past and plans to teach history through exhibit design and educational programming in museums. Teddi has the tendency to read more than necessary and drop obscure movie references.

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