How to be a young, nonprofit board member

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? 

 

Hal Meyer, Ronda Rutledge, Heather Davies Bernard, Heather McKissick and Abby Williamson

Hal Meyer, Ronda Rutledge, Heather Davies Bernard, Heather McKissick and Abby Williamson

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.”

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5 Questions for Kim Jowers, Executive Chair of Young Leaders Society

The Young Leaders Society engages Austinites between 21 and 45 years old who give $1000 or more to United Way Capital Area. Unlike a typical professional society, membership in this group emphasizes education opportunities in philanthropy and civic engagement. YLS members are committed to a better Austin and often have second careers in philanthropy.

Which makes for some busy people. I met Kim Jowers at the Head Honcho pitch ‘n putt event earlier this year. She just had a baby, too – a boy named Rhys. We were talking about typical new mom things – sleeping, nannies, not sleeping, and adjusting to this new life – when I realized she not only had a full-time job but was also leader of YLS. Wow. Good on you, Kim.

1. Along with opportunities for professional development, YLS offers its members a chance to learn more about growing their philanthropic “careers.” That’s a little more than what other professional associations offer, which might be the reason people join. Tell me about the kinds of people who join YLS in general.

The group is well represented as the focus is first on giving and so our membership have “day” jobs that run the gamut of professions. I believe the people that join are those that want to network with other like-minded individuals who are concerned with ensuring our Central Texas area is addressing the parts of society where there is a critical need.

2. So do YLS members have previous experience in philanthropy?

It depends, although I think for the majority of the group they are very civic-minded and especially concerned with making sure Central Texas is a better place to live. But, even if they have not volunteered much, YLS provides those opportunities for their membership both through actual volunteer events, the inspiring monthly lunch with leaders series or the workshops where we partner with groups such as Greenlights and Leadership Austin.

3. What about particular concerns? Do they come in wanting to serve a particular need?

You’ll find a wide breadth of concerns among our membership and they want to be a catalyst for making positive changes in our community. One great thing about the YLS group is being a part of United Way, which serves so many needs in our community.

4. Right, that’s how you become a member, but donating $1000 or more a year to United Way. Did the recent funding changes at United Way sit well with YLS members in general?

It seems to be sitting well with our membership. We have a close relationship with the leadership at United Way and they have made themselves very accessible to our membership to get any questions answered. The United Way researched this new approach very thoroughly and looking at the three areas they are focused on (education financial stability and health), it is hard to argue that the need is not there and further, not want to be a part of helping make a difference. I think it is pretty exciting!

5. Change does make things interesting, that’s for sure. You’d think lots of young professionals would want to be a part of it.

We need to increase awareness of groups like ours, show them what we are doing, how our efforts make a difference and how exciting and good it feels to be a part of it. Additionally, we are all very busy and I think we need to continue to provide relevant events and workshops, like YLS does, to our membership…making it easy and fun to be a part of.

I think young professionals bring a lot to the table: energy, enthusiasm, fresh ideas, a different perspective from the other traditional areas of philanthropic giving. I think energy and a different perspective are the big ones.

Kim Jowers is a finance manager for Applied Materials, currently working in the Sarbanes-Oxley program management office. She also serves on Applied’s Education committee, which reviews and makes decisions on where Applied will spend their philanthropy dollars earmarked for education in the Austin community.

Kim’s been a YLS member for four years. “I enjoy participating in volunteer activities that YLS puts together, including volunteering at ARCH, Marathon water stop, helping kids get financial aid, etc.” She’s married and is a new mother to six-month-old Rhys.