December 10, 2020

How to Find Younger Nonprofit Board Members

Have you ever had a moment of insight, like Joyce?

Joyce glances across the ballroom and watches as the last of their donors and volunteers take their seats for the annual meeting. Joyce’s heart goes out to them. They are the best, she thinks. They are the ones who make the sacrificial donations, faithfully trim the hedges, and welcome customers with finesse. As the Chair of the Board begins his scripted welcome, Katelyn, their newest employee, enters the back of the room, holding extra agendas in her hands.

“I wonder,” Joyce muses to herself, “What does Katelyn see when she looks at this crowd?” When the answer comes to her, Joyce startles. “Grandparents. Even great-grandparents!” she whispers. From dear Mrs. Todd, accompanied by her nurse, to the Bennetts, still hobbling to their seats, everyone in the crowd is a senior.

“Who,” Joyce worries, “will help this organization in ten years?” Many here had already promised planned gifts. Joyce knew the dollars by themselves weren’t going to bring love to the organization, and its work, like the people in this room, did. They brought heart and soul to the nonprofit. To flourish tomorrow, they needed to grow new support from younger people.

This article shares two strategies to develop multi-generational communities around your missions. Both will help you grow younger supporters. Might one of these, or an adaption of them, allow you to create future supporters–and recruit board members–to lead your organization today and tomorrow?

Up and Coming

Fellow consultant, Laura Mikuska, worked with a group that sought volunteers for their capital campaign cabinet. The leaders first encountered a collection of polite passes from the well-known community leaders on everyone’s wish list. At a chamber meeting, Laura met two lawyers with prominent local firms. They both planned to become partners in their respective firms someday. She invited them to coffee to share details about the campaign. Not only did they respond with enthusiasm and agree to participate, but they also brought fresh energy to the effort. By hosting a breakfast meeting at their firm, the lawyers introduced new friends to the nonprofit and helped the group to obtain younger supporters.

Laura’s strategy and yours should be to move beyond the usual suspects. Seek up-and-coming community leaders when you recruit board members and do your board recruitment planning. If you adopt this strategy, remember always to seek out individuals who care about your cause. Build relationships with them to support your work today. While they may need more education about your organization and board leadership than active philanthropic leaders, you will be able to count on their support for years to come.

Play with Children. 

Another strategy to develop younger supporters originates from SPARCC, headquartered in Sarasota, Florida. SPARCC seeks to create and maintain an environment free of domestic and sexual abuse and violence. Once a year, they hold a dress-up event for young children and their parents. The Pirates and Princess Ball attract children and their parents–generally young professionals. This early evening event includes a silent auction, games, dinner, and dancing. The event’s brilliance is that it reaches two generations of potential supporters rather than one.

While most nonprofits need another special event like a leaky roof, this gala offers a unique family twist. Besides money, it identifies people who can support the organization in 20 or more years. Be careful not to discard the strategy because you refuse to add another memorable event. Play with Children doesn’t have to include one. Instead of a gala, consider a day-off-from-school program for parents and children. You might add a highlights tour, mini-service project, and a healthy snack. Or recruit young supporters to use one of their skills. Clothes to Kids recruit teenagers to sort donated clothing. Not only is this much-needed labor, but it’s also smart. Teens are experts on what clothes children will wear to school!

While teens and children are unlikely candidates for board leadership, both have parents who might be prospects.

Work for a Good Tomorrow Today. 

To use either of the Up and Coming or Play with Children strategies, remember that the youthfulness of those you seek is only one of the criteria that makes these strategies work. Potential supporters also need to have a passion for your cause, financial means, and often other reasons to invest in you. And, of course, all supporters are not appropriate for board member recruitment. For example, Laura based her lawyer recruitment on her relationship with them, their interests, their desire to be leaders in their respective firms, and the fact that the nonprofit’s service areas overlapped the firm’s geographic market.

If you seek to recruit board members, consider these questions:

1. Can you support and grow the philanthropic tradition and create new supporters by offering something for parents and children? Research has found that 70 percent of high-wealth families have traditions that teach family values about the importance of philanthropy to their offspring. What program or event might you refresh? What opportunities might you add?

2. Where do young leaders gather in your community? Many chambers offer leadership programs and activities. When you meet leaders, what next steps will you take? It will be up to you to engage them.

3. Once you meet new supporters, how will you educate them so they know why their help is needed and how to help?

After the annual meeting, Joyce gathers a small group to help her explore creating younger board members and supporters. The task force develops many good ideas. While much work remains, they agree it is satisfying to face the challenge head-on. As the meeting closes, Joyce reminds Katelyn that their current donors and volunteers were once unfamiliar with their nonprofit work.

Every day, good nonprofit organizations find ways to improve their board recruitment pipeline. One way to have new board members tomorrow is to develop them today. Even if these examples don’t fit your needs use them to inspire you to  find ways to strengthen your current and future board members recruitment pool.

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Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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