Local Nonprofits Look To Diversify Boards By Recruiting New Generation Of Talent
By Joshua H. Silavent - Staff Writer
March 12, 2013 - Nonprofit boardrooms across Long Beach have begun asking themselves a simple question: How do we recruit younger members? With many boardrooms dominated by Baby Boomers and an aging, retirement-laden demographic, the need to groom the next generation of leaders seems more pressing than ever.
“I sit on a lot of boards and we have conversations all the time about needing to bring some younger members on,” said Jane Netherton, chair of the board of International City Bank in Downtown Long Beach. Netherton has been active in local nonprofits for some 30 years. She is the founding chair of the Conservation Corps of Long Beach, and currently serves on the board of directors of the Special Olympics Southern California and CSULB Foundation, among others.
According to the BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Index 2010, a survey of the make-up of nonprofit boards across the United States, just 14 percent of all nonprofit boardmembers are under the age of 40, with just 2 percent under the age of 30.
That makes someone like Weston LaBar an outcast of sorts. President and owner of Political Advocacy Consulting in Long Beach, LaBar joined the board of directors of the Arts Council For Long Beach in January at the age of 26. “I always saw a value in being part of my community and that civic duty of giving back,” he said.
John Glaza, executive director of the Arts Council, said his three decades working in the nonprofit sector have taught him a thing or two about board governance. It had become obvious to him in recent years that his own board needed to diversify. So last fall he sent out an open call for prospective boardmembers to apply and about 20 individuals did so. “We pursued this much like a job interview,” Glaza said.
Eventually, the Arts Council Board of Directors accepted seven new members, including LaBar.
But why did Glaza feel such urgency to bring some younger members on board? “We need to reflect the community,” he said. Moreover, individuals under 40 have a whole subset of skills, such as being tech savvy, that often elude older boardmembers. Still, Glaza confessed, “It’s less about age and more about skill set.”
Nevertheless, the passion young people bring to nonprofits is undeniably a major factor in why nonprofits are increasingly recruiting younger members. “I think what they bring is what we need the most,” namely enthusiasm and motivation, said Sundie Zin, 29.
Zin is the founder of Within Arms Reach, a local nonprofit that has built schools in poverty-stricken areas of Southeast Asia. Zin grew up in Burma before relocating to the United States at the age of 14 and graduated from California State University, Long Beach. In many ways, Zin represents the passion that young people today have for nonprofit causes. “I think we’re all required to give back,” she said. “For me, it was a calling.”
Jeffrey Wilcox, president and CEO of The Third Sector Company, which provides interim executive management for nonprofits without CEOs, said young boardmembers bring a sense of entrepreneurial spirit to nonprofits, something he believes is sorely lacking. “The under-40 group is used to having working and communication methods that the Baby Boomers are not,” Wilcox said. The problem, therefore, is that often “not-for-profit boards yield to the weakest link.” And this pushes young boardmembers aside. Indeed, Wilcox believes young people are “not particularly welcomed” on most boards.
So what else might be holding young people back from joining boards? Opinions vary.
Netherton said recruiting is difficult. She knows there are imminently qualified 30-somethings across Los Angeles and Orange counties. But finding them and connecting them with the right organization is a challenge.
Glaza said that boardmembers are often required to provide financial support to the nonprofits they serve, a prospect that might turn off some prospective, younger applicants. That’s why he makes it clear that Arts Council boardmembers are only asked to give what they can.
Of course, sometimes the fault lies with young people. “A lot of people our age are very focused on their career,” LaBar said, “and I don’t think they see the opportunity or the value that serving on some of these boards creates for them.” He added that serving on nonprofit boards provides both an opportunity to support his community and advance his professional career. Moreover, LaBar said young boardmembers could absorb a lot of institutional knowledge from their older predecessors, which is important for the continued success of the organization.
“Something I believe is that we need to make boards of directors more accessible,” Glaza said. “I think we need to just work a little harder to engage young people in service. We need to find a way to pass the baton. I would challenge every nonprofit in Long Beach to look really closely at their board.”