March 25, 2010

Do Nonprofit Boards Really Want Younger Members?

Emily Heard's recent post on the Board Life Matters blog, "Why Don't More Members of Gens X and Y Join Boards?" sparked quite a bit of discussion and speculation on the reasons why young people are so underrepresented on nonprofit boards of directors.

But Ms. Heard's post sparked another, more pressing question for me. Do nonprofit boards really want younger members? If you go by the numbers, the answer is a resounding "no." BoardSource's 2007 Nonprofit Governance Index found that only 2 percent of board members were under 30 years old.

The "under 30" focus is really important to note because that age bracket encompasses all of Generation Y, the largest generational demographic behind the Baby Boomers at 80 million strong. Which means that there are a lot of young people out there who can be recruited for board service. But just because there are a lot of Gen Y'ers out there, doesn't mean nonprofit boards are looking for them. The numbers don't lie. According to Boardsource, 62 percent of board members are age 50 and over. 

A follow-up report shed more light on the lack of age diversity on nonprofit boards. Boardsource's Next Generation and Governance Report on Findings showed that nonprofit boards understand the many benefits of having younger members:

  • Passion for the mission
  • Results-oriented thinking
  • Access to new networks and donors
  • Fresh perspective on old problems

Yet, the report also highlights several disincentives for nonprofit boards to actively seek out younger members:

  • Skepticism about the need to have younger generations on boards
  • Uncertainty of where to find younger board members
  • Preference for a "C-Suite" or corporate officer type profile on the board
  • Concerns of isolation (of being the only young person on the board)

Boardsource is slated to release a 2010 Nonprofit Governance Index soon. Do you think the numbers of young people on nonprofit boards will be higher this time around? Or will nonprofit boards continue to allow the disincentives to keep them from reaping the benefits of having more age diversity in their leadership?