How do I recruit a younger generation to my board?

With the maturation of the millennial generation, and anticipating that millennials will represent 75% of the workforce in less than a decade, many nonprofits are looking to this demographic not only to fill staff positions, but also as they recruit new board members. A plethora of research and ideas exist around how to hire twenty and thirty somethings, and still many nonprofits are wondering, “How do I recruit a younger generation to my board?”

To address this question, our nonprofit banking group at Pacific Continental Bank recently held a panel discussion facilitated by Ben Reuler, Executive Director of Seattle Works. The discussion was insightful and revealing according to attendees. I followed up with Ben to discuss this topic further, and this is what he shared:

I recently had coffee with a former Seattle Works volunteer named Anne. I asked her to tell me her Seattle Works love story. She shared that she moved to Seattle 8 years ago not knowing anyone; she credits Seattle Works with helping her “build my life”. She joined one of our volunteer teams (“Team Works”) and that experience showed her how she could contribute, helped her understand the breadth of issues facing the Seattle community, and allowed her to explore new neighborhoods. She also attended Seattle Works’ board training (“The Bridge”) and subsequently joined the board of directors of a local nonprofit youth development organization. After 7 years of volunteer projects with Seattle Works, Anne joined Social Venture Partners (SVP) in Seattle, most recently volunteering as a coach for the SVP Fast Pitch Social Innovation Competition. Furthermore, through Seattle Works, Anne met her best friends to this day, and even her romantic partner. Point is, millennials are ready to step up, big time.

At Seattle Works, we hear testimonies like Anne’s all the time. As our city witnesses an unprecedented millennial boom, many nonprofit organizations are wondering how to tap into the time, energy, skills, and motivation of this busy yet very socially conscious millennial generation of 19-35 year olds like Anne. Research by Deloitte, the 2015 Millennial Impact Report and anecdotal evidence from talking with just about any young professional all point to the important role that employers play in unlocking the give-back potential of their employees. The line between personal and professional is much blurrier than in decades past; as such nonprofit organizations will be well-served to identify contacts at local companies for help sourcing outstanding young volunteer talent like Anne.

Additionally, at the panel of millennial board members the following themes emerged:

  • Recruit at a “board speed dating” event hosted by an organization like Seattle Works and Leadership Tomorrow
  • Partner with the Board Fellows Program for Non-Profits at UW’s Foster School of Business
  • Millennials are hiding in front of you!
  • Identify pathways for millennials who are current volunteers or clients to matriculate to board service
  • Engage Millennials with hands on projects; assign work to them that they will find meaningful and that will boost their confidence about board membership/participation
  • Consider bringing on a cohort, rather than a “token” Millennial board member

Millennials are out there. They are ready. They have the motivation to engage, and nonprofits need to give them the means. Partnering with employers, and other organizations like Seattle Works that are working to engage millennials is a great place to start.