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Young professionals serving on boards

July 7, 2010

Last month Allison Jones and Rosetta Thurman hosted #ynpchat on twitter.  The topic was “the importance of board service for young professionals”. Allison posted a great summary of the discussion with some key take aways on her blog.  She makes some great points on how to approach your first board service.  Ask about a give/get policy; realize that fundraising is diverse; and consider volunteering first.

It seems a lot of the tweets and comments on Allison’s post regarding young professionals serving on boards came back to what level of fundraising is, and maybe more importantly, “should”, be expected.  Obviously this depends on the organization size, etc.  But what should young professionals expect when joining a board?  and what can you bring to the table?

First off, all boards aren’t created equal.  I know this is a very obvious point, but young professionals shouldn’t take it personal when they aren’t asked to serve on a the board of a $10 million agency. 

At the end of the day, nonprofit boards need to raise money.  Young nonprofit professionals can bring a lot to the table, including fundraising, but you shouldn’t think the other talents you bring offset the need to raise money.  We don’t let attorney’s strictly give through their time, because its valuable.

What nonprofit knowledge do you have?  Most board members, especially for smaller organizations may be doing this for the first time.  As a nonprofit pro, what knowledge of governance, etc. can you bring to the table?  Be the expert.

Don’t approach board service from the perspective of “what can this do for my career”. Sure, it can and will help your career, but don’t approach your board service that way.

Find a place you can have a real impact.  3 years ago I joined the board of an organization in Kansas City, Nonprofit Connect.  We operate on about an $800k budget, so by no means big.  I have really enjoyed the experience so far and am looking forward to taking on more leadership soon.  There are many organizations in KC I may be able to get on the board, but for whatever reason, may not be able to get my hands dirty and really involved.  With Nonprofit Connect it has been the right fit.  I have learned a ton about working with other volunteers and working with staff as a volunteer.  It has given me a new perspective on my job at Big Brothers Big Sisters and I have been able to bring some board practices from BBBS over.  Especially while you are young in your career, and maybe have more free time, find a place to get your hands dirty.

Finally, you should join your local YNPN board…or if there isn’t one, start one!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2010 12:39 am

    Great post, Patrick!

    I love the questions you have asked about expectations and considering what skills can be contributed!

    I especially love your perspective that fundraising is diverse. I just recently blogged about several ways that board members can support the development cycle – not focusing simply on solicitation. It may be helpful:

    I currently serve on a nonprofit board where I am able to get my ‘hands dirty.’ I do think that this is an incredible opportunity to give back to the community (while building skills).

    Keep up the great work! I’m so glad that #ynpchat is connecting me with great folks, like yourself.

  2. July 18, 2010 11:59 pm

    Great post! Hilarious that one of my posts around this time on my blog was about how young professionals (or anybody) should be involved in Board service!

    This means it has to be important 😀

    And as Jessica said, keep up the great work!

  3. Amanda permalink
    August 13, 2010 1:55 pm

    Great post! I agree it is important for young professionals in the non-profit sector to become familiar with how boards operate, but it is unusual for an organization to ask an inexperienced person to join a board. One way that I have started to get my feet wet is by joining the board of the local chapter of my university’s alumni association and also joining the board of another young professional’s club. These types of boards are a good way to gain leadership skills and experience with governance of an organization.

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