You’re young – in your 20s or 30s. You’ve recently started on your professional path. Maybe you’re new to Austin. And you’ve decided that you want to get involved, but seriously involved – like at the board level. What next?
More than 25 people attended the Greenlights Lunch & Learn event today at Leadership Austin, which included a panel discussion on the merits of young board members to nonprofits and what it takes to become one. Panelists included Heather Davies Bernard, a young, Sustainable Food Center board member; Hal Meyer, a young-at-heart Any Baby Can board member; Heather McKissick, the new president and CEO of Leadership Austin; Ronda Rutledge, executive director of Sustainable Food Center; and Abby Williamson, communications for People’s Community Clinic, serving as moderator. Mary Alice Carnes of Greenlights was hostess.
Here are some notes from the panel discussion.
Fulfilling the financial commitment
The panel seemed to agree that having younger people on the board did not negatively affect the organization financially. Rutledge said that young people seem to be as connected as older board members, “They have so many people at their fingertips, and they bring them to the organization.” Bernard agreed, saying that when she sought out a board, the financial commitment was one gauge by which she would make her decision. “My husband and I are not yet in the position to write the checks we want to write in our hearts.” Later, Bernard brought up that social networking sites actually increased the number of her connections exponentially.
McKissick of Leadership Austin weighed in, saying “I’m not underestimating the spending power of this group.” She noted that some young professionals don’t hesitate to spend $75 in one night at a restaurant.So that the financial commitments of board service shoulnd’t scare them away. (Comment from the crowd: “Hmmm, beer or board?”)
Both Any Baby Can and Sustainable Food Center ask board members to make a financial commitment, framed as a “give and get” – meaning the board member gives some and seeks out the rest in donations. At Sustainable Food Center, board members are responsible for $250 personally and $750 to “get.” Any Baby Can board members must raise $2000 in the same way. “We try to give them a number of ideas for ways to do this,” said Meyer.
Finding a good fit
McKissick offered a rule of thumb for young people trying to find their role on a board: “Don’t do your day job.”
“I think that some people assume that, because they’re an accountant during the day, then that’s what they should do for their board.” She said a person should instead consider taking on a role that matches an outside interest, say PR or leading a committee. “It works out great that way. They’re interested. They’re committed.”
Bernard, the young board member, agreed. She told the story of how she first met Rutledge, Sustainable Food Center executive director, and went on and on about her outside interests. “Okay, I’m a lawyer, but forget about that.”
“I had a sense I should choose something that would stimulate my other interests,” said Bernard.
How to get on a nonprofit board
The panel offered a number of ways to get started.
McKissick: “Apply to the Leadership Austin Emerge program! Find a way to connect with the community so that you learn more about what your passion is. What lights you up when it comes to community?”
Rutledge: “Attend a Greenlights board workshop. You can even attend a nonprofit board meeting. They’re supposed to be open to the public.” (GC suggests you contact the executive director ahead of time to politely invite yourself and express your interest.)
Bernard: “Talk to people. Look at Facebook and LinkedIn and get introduced. Then take that person to coffee and just pick their brain.”
Meyer: “If someone has never been on a board and doesn’t have experience with the organization, they should volunteer. It’s an excellent way to take that first step toward being on the board.”