Why young professionals should consider board service

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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.

Resources

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.

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Comments (7)


  1. Dania Toscano Miwa writes:
    September 29, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    I completely agree with the above points. I have served on four boards over the years and really value the diverse experience and interesting people I have met as a result. Also, if board service seems too daunting, I would suggest sitting on a committee first.


  2. Molly writes:
    September 29, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    While I find this article to be great, I am a little disappointed that there is no clear link to finding a way to serve on a board. Having to click a link to “see if they keep a list” means a ton of us have to do the work instead of just you. Links and easiness make me happy.


  3. Julia writes:
    October 12, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    I sit on a Bendigo Bank Community Bank board and it has been an absolutely fantastic experience. Molly, I think it’s important to find a cause that you believe in, connect with them as a volunteer and let them know that you’re interested in a board position or even better volunteer for a committee. This is a bit of a plug but I recommend getting in touch with your local Community Bank.


  4. Samah writes:
    October 17, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Does this website show companies that are looking for young people to serve on boards?


  5. Idealist writes:
    October 17, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Hi Samah, Yes – you can search Idealist for board opportunities. However, it might be more effective to follow commenter Julia Sharwood’s suggestion: begin by volunteering for causes you care about, and then talk with the organizations about whether and when they need new board members.


  6. Justin Hamel writes:
    October 19, 2011 at 1:32 am

    I serve on Inclusion Inc’s board. I started volunteering at Inclusion, and I got involved through the development of a program. After several months, they asked me to join their board.

    It’s been an amazing experience so far. Inclusion Inc’s board is diverse, and I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from these amazing people. Honestly, the experience one gains from serving on an active board is astounding.


  7. Idealist writes:
    October 19, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Justin!


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