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Lowering the Age of Board Service

At your next board meeting look around you.  What would you say the average age of your board is?  Forty?  Fifty?  Sixty?   You’re not alone.  Almost three-quarters of nonprofit boards are comprised of Baby Boomers (those age 46-64), according to BoardSource's Nonprofit Governance Index survey.  Only 2 percent are younger than 30, with almost 30 percent between the ages of 30 and 49.

In a recent Nonprofit Times article, Scott Leff of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management says that attracting young men and women to board service is “fundamental to sustainability.”   Indeed, if an organization fails to do so, the board will age itself out putting its future in jeopardy.  And given the fact that the vast number of current board members will be retiring from board service in the next decade, the nonprofit sector is facing (some argue we're in it right now) a talent drain that, just in sheer numbers, will be difficult to replace.

One of the big obstacles is that boards need younger members at just the age when these folks are building their careers and families.  There’s generally not a lot of time to engage in traditional board and committee work.  But that doesn’t mean that Gen Xers and Yers don’t want to be engaged at some level.  And the ball is in the organization’s court to figure that out.

It may be that many boards need to reassess how they do their work.  Typical meetings, assignments and communications need to be scrutinized, chunked up into smaller pieces and strung together by electronic dialogue.  When was the last time your board took a hard look at how it works?  And whether how it works really works for the people serving on the board?  This sounds like a great summertime project for a board task force (that includes younger supporters). 

Here are some random thoughts:

  • Younger board candidates need to be recruited by younger board members.
  • Board learning curves can be great; mentoring opportunities need to built into the recruitment and training processes
  • Trouble getting started?  Put together an advisory group of younger folks and ask them to help inform your board (possibly on a whole range of issues)
Photo:  AIGA Portland Board meeting at PopArt - March 2009 by Portland AIGA 

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