Why young professionals should consider board service


Board members for the Houston-based nonprofit Knowbility. Photo via Schipulites (Flickr/Creative Commons).

By Amy Potthast.

Recently Dania Toscano Miwa blogged about why nonprofits need young people on their boards.

She points out that what they may lack in financial power (some boards require a minimum financial donation from board members), young people make up for with networks. And she has a point.

Teaming a passionate Millennial board member with a development or marketing person could help the organization:

  • move its outreach in new directions
  • raise awareness about the organization and its cause among a new generation, and
  • guide the organization in making decisions that work for a younger constituent base.
What’s in it for you?

The benefits run both ways. Board service is a unique form of volunteering that offers young people opportunities to grow as leaders and as professionals.

Digital natives who are familiar with social networking, get a chance to learn how to apply their unique perspectives to further causes they care deeply about.

Early in their careers, Millennials who serve on boards get to glimpse the business and legal sides of nonprofit organizations — sure to increase their savvy as they further their careers.

Finally, boards consist of people working at businesses and organizations across fields, sector, issue, and role. Often, other board members will be more established in their careers and can play formal or informal mentoring roles for younger board members.

The fine print

Before you join a board, it’s crucial to learn more about the commitment, which is similar to an intense, often long-term volunteer experience that brings with it legal responsibilities, and often (but not always) the expectation of a minimum financial contribution. While serving on a board is great professional experience, you should sign on fully aware of the commitment in your time and resources, and 100 percent dedicated to the organization and its mission.


One way to learn more about the obligations and joys of board service is to attend a board service workshop in your area (for example, the United Way, a local foundation, or an association of nonprofits may offer training to new or potential board members). At the very least, take this interactive course from Compass Point to learn the basics. Some boards offer training to its new members.

To locate opportunities to serve on a board, you could volunteer first to serve on the committee of a board, get to know the organization better, and put your name in the hat when a board opening occurs. Alternately, you could search for board service opportunities through word of mouth, search volunteer listings on sites like Idealist.org, and/or call the local United Way or association of nonprofits in your area to see if they keep a list of organizations in need of board members.

Learn more about serving on a board as a way to strengthen your candidacy for a nonprofit job in Chapter Five of the free online book The Idealist Guides to Nonprofit Careers.

Do you serve on a board?

If so, what do you give and what do you get from the experience?

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.

Tags: ,

Career Corner: Paying Your Dues

By Meg Busse.

I was on a panel a few weeks ago at a retreat for Executive Directors (EDs). The panel was focused on supporting emerging leaders in the nonprofit sector and featured four people to speak to our experiences as 30(ish)-year-olds in leadership roles. The other panelists were fantastic: Matthew Bennett and Michelle Cote of the Purpose Project and Fahd Vahidy, ED of Public Allies Connecticut.

One of the most interesting moments of the session came at the very end when one ED commented that young hires don’t want to pay their dues. This created a bit of a hubbub in the room — the audience seemed split as to whether they strongly agreed or disagreed.

I’ve been thinking about that idea since then. I’ve heard that that sentiment is out there, but had never run into it. I’ve been lucky to have jobs where ‘paying my dues’ was never part of the job description, either because of organization philosophy or the fact that there was just too much to do to waste time on a dues-for-dues’-sake routine.

My current job is a perfect example. Russ is the Associate Director of Idealist and is my direct manager. From the beginning of my work at Idealist, Russ has gone out of his way to put me in situations where I can learn. I’ve sat in on interviews with big newspapers, participated in committee meetings so I could get to know the players, and traveled to conferences that would provide professional development, networking, and even practice in talking about Idealist and my work. Sure I do stuff that could be counted as paying my dues that I don’t love, but that’s just a fraction of my job. Those mundane tasks are balanced out by a host of incredible opportunities that Russ is constantly throwing my way. These opportunities are great for me and great for Idealist — a win-win situation.

There are lots of thoughts out there on why to pay dues, why millennials won’t pay dues, and who thinks dues paying is still important (hint: generally people already in leadership positions). These perspectives are not sector-specific, but seem to apply to nonprofit organizations.

My two cents?

  • The average time a younger employee spends in a job is down to around sixteen months these days. Why spend valuable time paying dues instead of doing real work?
  • Competition for talent within the nonprofit sector as well as between the sectors is fierce; great candidates aren’t wooed by dues-paying job descriptions
  • Most importantly though, the issues that we’re all working on are too pressing and too huge to not throw everything we have at them.

…Basically, I’m for fewer dues and more interesting to-dos.

What do you think? What has your experience been?

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

Tags: , , ,