Young leaders ready for community boards

By Pete Parker

It’s time to prepare our Generation X & Y counterparts for community leadership.

I’ve read recent blogs addressing young leadership and their roles or, lack thereof, on non-profit boards. In Emily Heard’s “Why Don’t More Members of Gens X and Y Join Boards”, she reminds us that only 2% of board members were aged 30 or younger according to Board Source’s Nonprofit Governance Index 2007 study. Various reasons for the lack of young board leadership were listed, most predominantly (in my opinion) was “skepticism about the need to have various generations on boards”.

I’m a Gen Xer who has served on no less than 10 boards over the past five years. Despite my relative lack of board experience, I can share that boards can certainly use an infusion of fresh leadership. Though the “freshness” does not necessarily need to relate to age, there are certainly advantages of recruiting young leaders, including:

  • Fresh perspectives
  • Ease in orienting, training and mentoring
  • Enthusiasm to serve on committees
  • Knowledge of the ever-advancing technology
  • Ability to network through social media channels
  • Connection to young future leaders

 They also possess the characteristic of caring. I have seen many board members (perhaps myself included) lose the interest and passion they once held for certain causes and organizations, yet remain on boards. New leaders, particularly young activists, can pick up the load once carried by active board members and move it and the organization forward.

I found the following statement in Rosetta Thurman’s blog, “Do Nonprofit Boards Really Want Younger Members” particularly insightful…“The “under 30” focus is really important to note because that age bracket encompasses all of Generation Y, the largest generational demographic behind the Baby Boomers at 80 million strong. Which means that there are a lot of young people out there who can be recruited for board service.”

It reminded me of the Meyer Foundation’s Ready to Lead report in 2008, which stated that “the nonprofit sector will undergo large-scale executive turnover in the near term and that it is uncertain if we have a workforce that is willing, prepared, and—not least of all—enthusiastically ready to assume leadership positions.” There are far more baby boomers than Gen Xers and Yers, potentially leaving a significant leadership void within our communities.

It is time to address the future strength, vision and impact of our community organizations. Thankfully, organizations such as the Points of Light Institute, HandsOn Network and local volunteer centers are in place and addressing community leadership on a daily basis.

Here in Northern Nevada, a solid group of leaders has chosen to propel the young leadership continuum forward. For the past two years, the Reno-Tahoe Young Professionals Network has focused its efforts on introducing young professionals to community and civic organizations. In fact, it launched a donor-funded campaign to educate and engage young leaders with organizations seeking key volunteers and board members. In its brief year of existence, The Pebble Project has linked 324 young professionals with 61 local community organizations.

The same organization has voted to start a board matching program, aimed at educating board members-to-be on all aspects of board leadership…and connecting each participant with a community organization.

These two projects are sure to ignite a spark of philanthropy in the Reno/Sparks area, creating a legacy of leadership for years to come.

I encourage organizational leaders (board and staff) to assess their leadership structures and personnel and seriously consider filling voids and creating opportunities for young leadership. We are eager to lead (especially if there’s direction), excited to serve and passionate about our communities. Plus, just imagine the skills we can learn and hone…then apply in our respective workplaces.

The future is here, the future is now.


Pete Parker is a consultant striving to enhance the level of philanthropy in communities.

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