It’s spring and, for a lot of nonprofits, that means getting serious about attracting new board members for the upcoming fiscal year. This is a big issue for many metro nonprofits because the circle of people who move from board to board, bringing their expertise, time and dollars to this group or that, seems to grow smaller all the time.
The nonprofits’ ability to grow that circle of people who want to serve feels threatened by a number of things:
One, millennials, now the largest generation, don’t necessarily want to make a long-term commitment to board work. That’s not to say that millennials don’t want to be part of the nonprofit world. This generation is heavily invested in doing good in their communities, but traditional board work may not get them excited.
Two, nearing-retirement business people with extensive board experience are tired of doing the heavy lifting on boards. Many of them rightly believe that it’s time for others to step up.
Three, the middle-agers are caught between their children and their parents. Between soccer matches, music lessons and other school-related activities on one hand and doctor appointments, downsizing homes and other aging-related activities on the other, this sandwich generation is often overwhelmed with commitments. And that doesn’t begin to address the fact that they are moving into leadership positions at work with tremendous pressure.
Where does that leave the nonprofit sector? Who will vote to approve the financials, hand out programs at concerts, lean on their friends for end-of-year donations, design the annual reports and so much more?
It leaves us all in a bit of a scramble.
Readers of all ages and experiences, let me encourage you to think deeply about the kinds of community services that are meaningful to you and then to reach out to the nonprofits that are serving those missions. Set up a meeting with the current board chair and the executive director and learn how you can get involved.
Be clear with your time commitments and your capacity to serve the organization. Ask questions on the front end: How often does the board meet? What is the financial health of the organization? How long are the board’s terms? Is there a required dollar donation expected of board members?
Nonprofits, I encourage you to do some thinking on this situation, too. It may be time to get creative about your board.
The recent trend in boards is the “small but mighty” approach. Does it still make sense for your board to be comprised of 18 members? Are all of those people engaged? Is it realistic to expect that many people to attend monthly meetings?
What if you paired down the number of board members involved in actual governance? Perhaps an advisory committee that meets biannually could help. You may find that people who are not “traditional” board members are excited to contribute to furthering your mission.
Are you ready to be pushed out of your comfort zone as an organization? If you invite a millennial to join you, are you ready to listen to their nonconventional ideas for attracting people and dollars? Are you comfortable using social media versus paper mailings?
Are you interested in attracting new Americans to your board and hearing their take on what is missing in the community? This group of citizens is actively looking for ways to get involved, but their vision might not be in sync with how your organization has always done it. What good work could you be doing if you were challenged by a different perspective?
How can the nonprofit sector continue to be responsive to the needs of their constituents and their board members? Fewer meetings for slightly longer time periods? Electronic voting for many of the issues that don’t need face-to-face conversation? Do away with the executive meetings and instead use that group on an as-needed basis?
There are many ways for the nonprofit sector to continue to do all the amazing work it is doing in the metro without burdening the volunteers who have served so many of them faithfully or discouraging new potential members from ever getting involved, but it’s going to take some creativity on everyone’s part to keep on keeping on.
Good luck to us all!
Dayna Del Val, executive director of The Arts Partnership, writes a monthly column for Variety. For more information on the arts, go to theartspartnership.net.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, April 18, 2016, issue of the paper.