Board, but not boring: Getting young people on non-profit boards
Millennials – the nickname given to people born between the early 1980s and late 1990s – face steeper hurdles than their parents’ generation, including higher housing and childcare costs, a more competitive job market, and higher levels of student debt. They’re also ambitious. A 2014 report by The Hartford found that 18 to 31 year olds are motivated to make the world a better place and many are prepared to lead in their communities.
In the 2013 General Social Survey – Giving, Volunteering and Participating, Volunteer Canada found that 66 per cent of Canadians aged 15 to 24 spend time volunteering, at an average of 110 hours each year. This demographic is more generous with their time than most – 44 per cent of all Canadians volunteer – and many young Canadians will have hundreds of volunteer hours accumulated by the time they reach age 25.
Sophie O’Manique works with Apathy is Boring, an organization that uses art and technology to educate youth about democracy. She says that young adults have a lot to bring to the board table. For example, younger board members have a better understanding of the issues young tenants, volunteers, and employees are experiencing and are often better able to communicate with these stakeholders. Younger board members can also inspire innovation and champion the adoption of new technologies.
Boards can support these young leaders by recognizing that old board structures might not optimize young people’s contributions. O’Manique says young adults are more mobile, engage in a range of pursuits, and may have less free time than their predecessors – but this does not mean they are less committed. If boards remain open-minded and flexible to new ways of engaging board members, they will benefit from the contributions of younger adults. To avoid tokenism, older adults will also have to genuinely believe in what young adults bring to the table.
Here are some tips to engage your full board while maximizing the contribution of younger members:
- Ensure all board members receive an orientation
- Develop a ‘buddy’ system –pair an existing board member with a new member
- Create time and space for questions and generative discussion
- Reconsider how the board committee structure works –consider ad hoc projects
- Create opportunities for leadership for each member
- Consider opportunities to work ‘on line’
- Reflect on how to use social media
- Value the contribution of each board member
Recruiting and engaging young adults as board members will ensure that Ontario’s social housing is in good hands well into the future.