According to population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau, millennials have officially eclipsed baby boomers as the largest generational cohort in the United States. Aged 19-35, millennials now number 75.4 million with expected continued growth. Collectively, they’ll have unprecedented influence for decades to come.
Despite their size and growing power, millennials tend to be thinly represented (if at all) on nonprofit boards. Nonprofits draw heavily from older adults who’ve had successful careers and amassed some personal wealth. Their capacity to contribute combined with their network of well-placed and/or affluent donors help nonprofits secure funds to accomplish their mission. Yet fundraising is far from the only role that board members serve. And, of course, baby boomers and other older board members will eventually become as scarce as the funds nonprofits chase.
If millennials are not well-represented on your board of directors, it’s time to ramp up your recruiting efforts. Here are five ways this generational cohort can add value to your board.
1. Millennials are ready, willing, and able to step into leadership roles.
According to The Hartford’s 2015 millennial survey, 77 percent of millennials already consider themselves to be leaders today. They want to make an impact with their lives and value leadership training above technical and financial skill development. In fact, 63 percent of respondents said they want to be transformational leaders who challenge and inspire others with purpose and excitement. Board service can provide the development experience they seek while offering an outlet to nurture their desire to be change agents.
2. Millennials are crucial dialogue partners on the changing culture of donor giving and fundraising.
They understand the messaging and the media that appeal to younger generations. They recognize the importance of impact assessment to demonstrate the organization’s capacity to leverage hard-earned dollars for social gain. They have seen how texting, social media, crowdsourcing, and other technology-driven venues hold far more sway than direct mail and telephone solicitations. Moreover, they’ll lend fresh perspectives on tried-and-true techniques that just may yield a bigger bang for the fundraising buck.
3. Millennials know what it takes to attract other millennials to the workplace.
For over a decade, succession planning has topped the list of board concerns. As stalwart baby boomer leaders look toward retirement, a new generation of leaders needs to be ready to take the reins. In an ideal world, boards will tap home-grown talent and leverage their skills, their passion for the cause and their organizational memory. But in order to cultivate that labor pool, the organization must establish a culture millennials find attractive – e.g., collaborative, open to independent thinking, rich in growth opportunities, attentive to work-life balance, etc. Who better to guide the current leadership than forward-thinking millennial board members? And who better to be on front lines recruiting and shepherding that talent pool?
4. Millennials have their own resources and networks that could benefit the organization.
While many may fall short in their near-term capacity for giving, they may work for generous employers or hold membership in organizations that are receptive to requests for donations. Their friends, colleagues, and family members may be well-resourced and/or have connections that could prove vital for the organization’s mission. And they may welcome the opportunity to advance their relationship building skills under the tutelage of an experienced development director.
5. Millennials bring a much-needed “voice” to the strategic planning table as the organization contemplates its future.
Let’s face it, the millennial vote will have an increasingly important say in public elections and matters of public policy. This cohort will occupy leadership positions in key government agencies. Given the substantive impact of governmental policy and funding for many nonprofits, boards need to have an ear to the ground on these shifting political sands. Who better to lead this charge than representatives from the group wielding the greatest influence?
As you prepare to welcome millennials to the board, make sure their roles are substantive and well-conceived. Many have worked in start-ups or launched their own nonprofits, so they’ll have the knowledge and experience to serve as officers, committee chairs, or project leads. Find good “mentor matches” to serve as sounding boards and coaches as your new board members adjust to the organization and their roles in it.
Nonprofit Leadership Guide
Download our guide to effective nonprofit board governance, including how to avoid blurring the line between board governance and management as well as how to attract millennials to serve on the board.