Broadening the Base: Adding Up-and-Comers to the Board

on in Board Development

We’ve heard a lot about board diversity over the years.

“Does your board reflect the communities you serve?” – a typical funder question on various grant applications.

“Do you have a lawyer, an accountant, someone in PR?” – another standard board composition query.

“I need to recruit rich people to help me fundraise,” goes the classic executive director’s lament: “Someone different from my current board members!”

But there’s one element of board diversity that seems out of reach for many boards that are skewing older and older – that of age.

Where are the board members of tomorrow?


A recent Crain’s article explores this head-on, recounting how groups as large as City Harvest and as small as Mouse have been taking steps to build the under-40 contingents of their boards.

Many are creating Young Professional Councils to attract 20 and 30-year olds; and interestingly enough, many are moving from the come-one-come-all approach of previous years, to instituting minimum giving requirements for these groups (from $500 to $5,000).

Weeding out the marginally interested from those truly committed may create a funnel with a less wide opening to start, but it does help these groups become more of a real feeder for the full Board of Directors.

City Harvest found that in 13 years of running its Generation Harvest young fundraisers group, it had never had someone ascend from that group to the full Board. In the summer of 2013, City Harvest raised the group’s giving level from $1,500 to $5,000 – and saw the group’s membership drop from 45 to 18. But “now the group is really involved,” noted Executive Director Jilly Stephens.

Which begs the question: Is it worth the effort?

In the same way that planned giving is about legacy, about the future; stewarding a younger generation of leaders is a statement that a nonprofit’s mission (and governance) will outlast the people currently holding it in their trust.

It’s an investment, and groups have to be at a stage of institutional development to have the time and energy to invest in friendraising, which this is a particularly-focused form of.

But for those who can pick their heads up from solving the day-to-day challenges, this is one of the more important governance frontiers…

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