Category: Board Service


BoardLeaders Talk Tips for High-Impact Nonprofit Board Service

50Board Service, CauseKit, Leadership February, 17

By Erin Connell, Consultant at Cause Strategy Partners, LLC

Our BoardLeaders have proven their capabilities and drive in sheer numbers, with 56 BoardLeaders serving as high-impact nonprofit board members on 120 boards in New York and Chicago. As we prepare to launch our next round of BoardLead in both cities, our team wondered: what qualitative impact and growth have our BoardLeaders experienced through their nonprofit board service?

I was determined to find out. I spoke with 14 BoardLeaders from the NYC Spring 2015 cohort to learn more. My conclusion? Listen up, because these individuals have some serious knowledge to drop! The BoardLeaders I spoke with blew me away with their insights, their knowledge, and their confidence. Our BoardLeaders know nonprofit board service, and here’s what they had to say.



1. Be passionate

To excel as a nonprofit board member, you must passionately and honestly support the mission. First, for the nonprofit’s sake and yours, make sure you believe in their work! Your time (and money) is important, so seek service opportunities that invigorate your interests and passions. Second, be honest when seeking board opportunities; be true to yourself and true to your passions when seeking out service. This should be a cause you can get behind for a while, not just for the purpose of padding your resume. If you do this and are pure in your passions, you will set yourself up for the ideal board position – one that doesn’t feel like a job!


2. Be clear about your motives

It is important to be clear and honest with yourself, and with the nonprofit, about what you look to get out of board service – and about what they hope to gain from board members. All board members should contribute with their time, treasure and talent, though the degree to which you add to each will depend largely on your motives. Looking to build your strategic management skills? Hoping to contribute to the financial success of an organization? Aiming to commit your free time to a good cause? Understand and express your motives; you and the nonprofit both want a board situation where all parties bring and receive what they can, are comfortable with, and have agreed to.


3. Be honest with and about yourself

Understand what skills you can feasibly add to the board, as well as what their needs are. In particular, do your research and honestly look at the commitment. Then be up-front about what time and monetary support you can contribute. 



4. Make a friend through thoughtful and engaged listening

Before you commit to board service, take time to meet with the board chair, the board members, and the chief executive. Listen to their experiences and stories to fully understand the culture, the needs, and the expectations of the board and the organization. Once you are serving on a board, take advantage of learning from others. Take your fellow board members out for coffee to learn from them what engaged board service looks like. Go to board meetings and events, schedule informational interviews, and foster relationships with your fellow board members – and with the organization’s staff.


Be-Vocal-you-have-something-to-give-to-every-organization-and-people-will appreciate-your-participation

5. Be vocal

You have skills and a perspective that can add value – people will appreciate your participation and engagement!


Our BoardLeaders don’t just show their value in numbers: they prove to us everyday that strong nonprofit board service is possible through passionate, self-aware, and engaged commitment to service. At Cause Strategy Partners, we envision a world where we’re asked not where we work, but what causes we support. Engaging in high-impact, committed board service is a great way to put your passions to work. Our BoardLeaders have proven this potential; we hope their tips for how to approach and excel in board service will inspire others to do the same.

Erin Connell
Erin M. Connell, MPA is a Consultant and Project Manager at Cause Strategy Partners. She has over five years of professional experience working in both the public and private sectors, and is deeply passionate about public service. At Cause Strategy Partners, Erin collaborates on matters of non-profit management, corporate social responsibility, and board governance. Erin serves on the Alumni Board at City Year New York. She earned her M.P.A. from New York University (2017), and her B.A. from Columbia University (2013).

BoardLead 2016: Look How Far We’ve Come in Just Two Years

21Board Service, BoardLead Update, CauseKit January, 17

By Alexandra Hallock, Consultant at Cause Strategy Partners, LLC

Cause Strategy Partners, LLC is approaching its two-year anniversary this February 2017. As we reflect on 2016 and look to 2017, we have a lot to celebrate! Join us as we review this year’s highlights and read on to see what’s coming.

We designed, built, and launched our signature BoardLead Program in collaboration with Heckscher Foundation for Children, Google, Barclays, and PwC in 2015. BoardLead recruits, places, trains, and supports earlier-career professionals from top companies for board service at high-impact nonprofits.  

We are consulting with other Fortune 500 companies, as well, helping them build out in-house board placement and philanthropic programs. Most importantly, we are privileged to work with a great group of national, regional, and local foundations and nonprofit organizations, helping them build and professionalize their board leadership and governance.

In less than two years, we’ve run our 10-month BoardLead program 5 times, in 2 cities, with 10 corporate and 56 nonprofit partners.

To date, BoardLead has placed over 120 professionals onto the boards of 56 nonprofits in New York City and Chicago! In less than two years, we’ve run our 10-month BoardLead program 5 times, in 2 cities, with 10 corporate and 56 nonprofit partners. Our Fall 2016 program is currently underway, and this spring we launch two additional BoardLead cohorts in New York and Chicago.


Let’s look at some highlights from 2016!

The Cause Strategy Team celebrating after our 2nd BoardLead learning session at our corporate partner, Google

2016 BoardLead Elections

This past year, 92 BoardLeaders were elected onto the Board of Directors of 39 nonprofits. Do the quick math and that’s an average of 2.4 BoardLeaders elected per organization! In fact, we’ve seen some of our nonprofit partners take as many as 4 BoardLeaders at once from the program and praise the benefits a new class of professionals brings to their existing Board of Directors.

Important Initiatives  – Diversity in the Arts

This year, for the first time in BoardLead history, we brought a specific focus to our program. That focus is to foster diversity for the boards of arts organizations in New York City. According to the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, while 64% of New Yorkers are from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds, just 22% of board members represent diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds. Mayor Bill De Blasio has called for us to “find ways to foster a creative sector that opens doors for every New Yorker, regardless of their background.”1 So, Cause Strategy Partners is joining the effort by increasing diversity for 20 New York City-based arts organizations and their boards in partnership with The New York Community Trust, Goldman Sachs, Google, and MasterCard.


Rob and Erin with the team at the Nerdery in Chicago to discuss the new BoardLead website

We launched a new BoardLead website!

We designed and built a brand new website for BoardLead. This online platform will allow us to track and manage the program efficiently, bringing huge potential for scale. We’ve already seen this investment in technology improve our day to day.

Welcoming New Staff

This past year our staff grew significantly with the introduction of two new Consultants at Cause Strategy Partners, LLC. Welcome Alexandra Hallock and Erin Connell!


Continued Success of New BoardLeaders

What makes BoardLeaders successful?

BoardLeaders are passionate about the nonprofits they serve. Mission passion is our number one most important criteria when facilitating board matches between professionals and nonprofits through BoardLead.

BoardLeaders bring needed skills to their nonprofit boards. Professionals in 2016 came from top companies Barclays, BlackRock, Cushman & Wakefield, Google, LinkedIn, Macquarie, Motorola Solutions, and PwC. They brought with them expertise in finance, accounting, marketing, human resources, technology, and so on.

BoardLeaders are active fundraisers for their organizations. The average give/get commitment from BoardLeaders for 2016 was $6,247. It is an expectation of any professional placed through BoardLead to give at a personally significant amount and meet the giving requirements of their nonprofit.

Professionals in 2016 came from top companies Barclays, BlackRock, Cushman & Wakefield, Google, LinkedIn, Macquarie, Motorola Solutions, and PwC.


Looking Ahead

The fun continues in 2017. Most of our corporate partners from 2016 have jumped on board to continue in the program this spring, and some new partners as well. There’s a lot of potential in New York City and Chicago, and we continue to find new ways to work with our nonprofit, foundation, and corporate partners.


1 Report: Diversity in the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Community (January 28, 2016); 2010 U.S. Census.


Alexandra Hallock
Alexandra Hallock is a Consultant of Cause Strategy Partners, a purpose-driven social enterprise that believes in harnessing the power of business for social good. We are proud to be a Certified B Corporation. BoardLead is our signature board recruitment, placement, training and support program. In 2016, Cause Strategy Partners was named an inaugural honoree of the Best for NYC Award for demonstrated outstanding commitment to the community where we live and work. Learn more by visiting
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5 Archetypes of Great Board Members

20Board Service, CauseKit, Leadership January, 17

By Robert B. Acton, Principal & Founder at Cause Strategy Partners, LLC

What makes a great nonprofit board member?

We spend a lot of time mulling over this question at Cause Strategy Partners – a consulting social enterprise that recruits, places, trains, and supports board members from top companies for the Boards of Directors of nonprofits in NYC, Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay Area.  Our nonprofit partners look to us to identify committed, passionate, talented professionals who will demonstrate in their board service the same high performance they bring to their day job.  

Because this question is central to the success of our work, I regularly reflect on the many years of my own board involvements.  As a nonprofit chief executive, what board member characteristics proved to be most important in performing governance work and ensuring that we accomplish mission?  As a board member, which of my board colleagues demonstrate a standard of full engagement?  What do they do that sets them apart as high-impact board leaders?

“What board member characteristics proved to be most important?”

Great board service drives mission impact.  There is a direct correlation between how a board member engages week in and week out and his or her overall contribution to mission achievement.  Because of this, BoardLead – our signature program that has placed more than 120 high-performing professionals from top companies on to the boards of 56 nonprofit organizations – culminates with a four-part governance learning series by defining 5 Archetypes of Great Board Members.  We encourage our newly minted BoardLeaders to find the archetype that uniquely fits them and commit to model those behaviors in their service.  


The Pensive Sage:  Reflective.  Thoughtful.  Respected.

In board meetings, Dan Wilkening – a senior executive at a major financial institution in Chicago – would sit quietly for the lion’s share of the meeting.  He would listen carefully, take notes and nod occasionally, but rarely speak.  Yet when we were at the crossroads of a contentious discussion on an important strategic issue, Dan would lean forward in his chair, put his elbows on the table, lift an index finger, and wait to be invited by the Chair to jump into the conversation.  When he did, we listened.  Experienced, committed and wise, upon sharing his perspective, invariably the conversation would begin to move in the direction of Dan’s contribution.

The Pensive Sage actively listens more than he speaks.  He looks for ways to think about issues differently.  He asks good questions to ensure thoughtful debate.  And when he makes a point, it counts.  


The Trusted Advisor:  Available.  Honest.  Reliable.  

You know the saying:  leadership is lonely.  It’s true.  It really is.

The Trusted Advisor, usually an accomplished leader in her own right, understands this and forms a special relationship with the chief executive.  She invests significant time with the CEO outside the boardroom, building trust.  She serves as a sounding board, providing a safe space for the CEO to express frustrations, share concerns, or test ideas.  She provides encouragement, of course, but also artfully provides private and candid feedback when the chief executive has missed the mark.  

The Trusted Advisor “invests significant time with the CEO outside the boardroom, building trust.”


The Opportunity Seeker:  Enterprising.  Creative.  Solutions-Oriented.

After listening to the Executive Director’s report at a board meeting and learning that staff morale was particularly low, board member Adam Stanley spoke up.  Looking around the room at his colleagues, he said, “There is something we can do to help.”  Adam spent the next month organizing board members to hold a Staff Appreciation Day for the dedicated staff team.  He gathered gifts from each board member (tickets to sporting events and concerts, airline miles, art work), organized a celebratory party, and asked board members to personally prepare words of praise for each staff member.  On the day of the event, a chartered bus picked the staff up for a tour of the city while the board transitioned the drab office space into a party setting.  When the bus returned, staff members entered the office to a New Orleans style band playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” as board members stood on both sides of a rolled out red carpet, cheering and applauding the team.  Thanks to one board member, a dispirited staff had the opportunity to feel valued in a tangible way by their Board of Directors.  

The Opportunity Seeker looks for problems to solve, and acts.  He is eager to apply his time, talent and treasure to advance the organization.  He lifts burdens off of the Chief Executive and makes them his own.  The Opportunity Seeker often contributes more outside the boardroom than in it.


The Technical Expert:  Skilled.  Willing.  Accessible.

Lisa Dietlin is an expert in fundraising who years earlier launched her own consultancy, The Institute of Transformational Philanthropy.  As a board member, she delivered her expertise to the nonprofit she served, chairing the Development Committee, helping shape fundraising strategy, and serving as a critical thought partner to the Executive Director.  Lisa delivered tens of thousands of dollars in expertise from her seat on the board, all pro bono.  She knew her sweet spot and stepped in as a board leader to drive impact.

Nonprofit Chief Executives are asked to be all things to all people.  Want evidence?  Visit and look at an Executive Director job posting.  The list of desired competencies is extensive: shape strategy, supervise staff, oversee and evaluate programs and services, raise funds, guide the work of the board, advocate with governmental leaders, etc.  The list goes on and on.

The Technical Expert “acts as an issue spotter, quality assurance provider and sounding board on areas within her expertise.”

Board members generally bring deep expertise in one or more professional skill sets that they can contribute to the organization in meaningful ways.  The Technical Expert leverages her professional skills to bring about results.  She acts as an issue spotter, quality assurance provider and sounding board on areas within her expertise.  She takes a leadership role on topics in her wheelhouse.  She envisions pro bono engagements, helps develop a scope of work, and taps her professional network to source the project.  Always maintaining appropriate divisions in board-staff responsibilities, The Technical Expert helps the organization understand and accomplish gains in her area of core competency whether that is strategy, HR, marketing, legal, real estate, technology or any other professional capability.


The Pace Setter:  Fully-Engaged.  Driven.  Leader.

Political leaders use the phrase “A rising tide lifts all boats” to describe how a growing economy will benefit all participants in that economy.  The aphorism is also helpful to understand the effect of fully engaged board members serving a nonprofit board.  I’ve seen it over and over again:  a couple new high-performing board members take their commitment to drive impact from a governance seat seriously and, before long, other board members are responding to the upward pressure to be more meaningful contributors.  Why?  Sometimes it’s because leaders don’t like to be outpaced.  Sometimes it’s out of respect for the individual’s impressive level of involvement.  Maybe it’s because effective board leadership just needed to be modeled.  Occasionally it’s good old-fashioned guilt:  “If he’s doing that much, I’m embarrassed to do so little.”

The Pace Setter – perhaps the most desirable of the five archetypes – raises the performance of other board members through excellent board service.  He shapes the culture of the board by modeling a high standard of contribution.  The Pace Setter makes it uncomfortable to be disengaged and, in doing so, positively influences the overall contribution of his colleagues around the boardroom.  


Which Board Member Are You?

Every nonprofit board member should be fully-engaged.  Effective board service is marked by what we at Cause Strategy Partners describe as The BoardLeader Way:

  • A perfect or near perfect meeting attendance record
  • Robust participation in board meetings
  • Service on at least one board committee
  • A personally meaningful and sacrificial annual contribution
  • Active participation in all fundraising efforts
  • Leveraging your skills and network to drive impact
  • Completion of each elected term

Fully engaged board service like this should be the norm, not the exception.  Beyond that, each board member should find his or her path.  Uncover ways to uniquely contribute as a member of the organization’s governing body.

Reflection:  Consider a few questions as you reflect on your board service

  • Which of the 5 Archetypes of Great Board Members fits you best?
  • How do you currently model these behaviors in and outside the boardroom?  
  • Jot down three specific ways you can drive impact by doubling down on your approach to great board service.


Robert Acton
Rob Acton is Principal & Founder of Cause Strategy Partners, a purpose-driven social enterprise that believes in harnessing the power of business for social good. We are proud to be a Certified B Corporation. BoardLead is our signature board recruitment, placement, training and support program. In 2016, Cause Strategy Partners was named an inaugural honoree of the Best for NYC Award for demonstrated outstanding commitment to the community where we live and work. Learn more by visiting
white smile woman

4 Keys to Engaging Millennials in Board Service

20Board Service, CauseKit, Millennials October, 15

I’m always leery to paint an entire people group – for example, Millennials born between 1980 and 2000 – with a broad-brush stroke. I look at my four nieces and nephews, for example, all of whom fall into the Millennial generation, and often see more differences than similarities. Yet it’s clear that generational commonalities have emerged. I’m confident we could fill the three buildings of the Library of Congress with the management, human resources, and “how to” books written about this force within the workforce.

You’ve heard it all before, right? But let’s recap. According to Lydia Abbott, Millennials are:

  • Connected: they stay actively engaged with a vast network of friends
  • Purpose-Seekers: they need to work on important things
  • Collaborators: they are team-oriented and enjoy building friendships with colleagues
  • Opinionated: they have a point of view and believe it should be valued
  • Tech-Savvy: they taught their fathers and grandmothers how to use social media
  • Cause-Oriented: they believe in institutions that demonstrate a cause orientation

Sounds like a good profile for a nonprofit board member, doesn’t it? Most nonprofit CEOs I know would pursue candidates who offered even four out of the six.

In my last post, I attempted to make the case that earlier-career professionals are a potent, though largely untapped, pool of talent for nonprofit boards. I described how our firm, Cause Strategy Partners, LLC, is recruiting and placing next generation board candidates on to nonprofit boards in collaboration with three top companies in New York City. Through this work, we’ve learned a good deal about what motivates an earlier-career professional to engage in board governance and what makes it stick. Here are four key insights:

1. Be Strategic with the Ask

A key tenant of fundraising applies to board development, as well: send the right person to make “the ask.” Who is the ideal person to recruit a high-performing Millennial? There is a good chance that it’s not Chair of the Governance Committee or Board. Who in your organization can best relate to and connect with the individual you are recruiting? Who on your board is from a similar station in life and can candidly respond when asked the question, “What does this really involve?” What leader in your organization can paint a compelling picture of how board service will be personally meaningful to the candidate at this stage of life?

As a part of this first conversation, help the candidate assess personal readiness. It does nobody a favor to downplay the responsibilities of board service, at this stage or any other. When we recruit earlier-career professionals at Cause Strategy Partners, we double down on the tougher topics, candidly discussing in great detail the commitment required in time, talent and treasure. Your mantra should be this: no surprises down the road. Make sure candidates understand in great detail the expectations – most especially, the financial and fundraising commitments. Like in a marriage, money matters are a common issue that transforms a fulfilling board experience into a sour one.

2. Give Them a Meaty Challenge

Millennials have no interest in downsizing their service to just a few board meetings a year. They want to work on important things. Give board recruits a specific challenge that directly relates to their core skill set and experience. Tell them you need them on the board, in part, to help fix this pervasive problem. Give them a sense of how they will make meaningful impact from their board seat.

I recently introduced a highly successful television producer to an organization in NYC that I support. This nonprofit does critical life-saving work, but I’ve often heard board members refer to the organization as “the best kept secret in the city.” During the introductory meeting that I brokered between the candidate and board leadership, I sensed my producer friend wasn’t feeling moved by the opportunity. The mission fit his general interests to be sure, but I sensed he was struggling with the idea of signing up for six meetings a year, plus committee meetings, plus a financial commitment, in light of his uber-busy professional life.

Eventually I interrupted the conversation, sharing the “best kept secret” problem that I’d heard mentioned over the years. I shared my perspective that there was a clear opportunity for this organization to be the nation’s leading voice on the issues we address. Based in our country’s media capital, I wondered aloud why we don’t regularly see our CEO on cable news shows when incidents occur that are at the center of our impact area. My producer friend’s face visibly lit up. He quickly moved from a passive listener to a problem-solver. Now we were talking his language. He began to list a number of strategies that he would pursue as a board member to elevate the profile of the organization. In short, he’d found his meaty challenge.

3. Broaden the Definition of the Word “Give”

Giving to a nonprofit involves more than cash, checks or credit card numbers. Immense value can be delivered to an organization through in-kind contributions, pro bono projects, board-led initiatives, and the like.

I had the good fortune of meeting Adam Stanley while I was running a Chicago legal aid organization many years ago. A mutual friend insisted that we become acquainted, and within 45 minutes over morning coffee at his office, I knew why: although earlier in his career at the time, Adam had the background, skills, values, and characteristics we needed on our board. Thankfully, when asked to serve, he said “yes.”

During one particularly difficult period in our organization’s history, staff morale was very low. Seeing an opportunity, Adam raised his hand in a board meeting, offering to organize and lead a Staff Appreciation Day. He said to his colleagues around the boardroom, “We’ll do it together.” For weeks, Adam worked with each board member to gather a dizzying array of gift cards, airline miles, sporting event tickets, pieces of art, special experiences, and the like. When Staff Appreciation Day arrived, a charter bus pulled up outside our office to take the team on a short drive around the city. When we returned, the members of our board were lined up alongside a rolled out red carpet. A marching band – yes, marching band! – was playing as the staff walked in to the thunderous applause of the entire board. We ate together, opened gifts, received individual awards, and socialized as a full board-staff team. The value of that effort – entirely led by one earlier-career professional on our board – went far beyond the size of any contribution he could have made that fiscal year.

4. Ask Your Corporate Partners for Candidates

Cause Strategy Partners works closely with corporate social responsibility (CSR) and HR/talent development teams at top companies, and one thing is very clear: earlier-career professionals are asking their employers to help them find a seat on a nonprofit board. While the CSR team is inundated with requests for their c-suite leaders, few nonprofits are strategically asking for earlier-career professionals who can fill skill gaps, enhance diversity, and strengthen ties to the corporate partner. Moreover, many Fortune 200 companies have board support programs in place that include governance training for employees, access to best-in-class BoardSource resources, matching gift opportunities, and dollars-for-doers giving programs.

Have you asked your corporate partners about high-talent, high-potential professionals who might be interested in serving on your board?

One Last Thought: Post, Like, Share

I sometimes joke, “If it’s not on my Facebook timeline or Twitter feed, it didn’t happen.” And I’m old.

Play into the prominence of social media among earlier-career professionals by sharing their significant contributions as members of your board. Ask permission to do so, of course, but think of the goodwill you can generate by tagging your next generation board members in posts like this:

  • Thanks board member Adam Stanley for spending weeks on today’s staff appreciation day. We’re refocused as a team & ready to go.
  • Board member extraordinaire Jill Johns invested her day today building a marketing plan for our organization. She’s a pro bono champ!
  • You get the idea. Public recognition and appreciation like this – especially when posted in a board member’s network – has the power to generate even deeper engagement, many times over.

    Robert B. Acton is Principal & Founder of Cause Strategy Partners, LLC, a consulting social enterprise that partners with foundations, corporations and social good organizations to help nonprofits achieve their missions fueled by great leadership, great strategy and, most importantly, great results. Visit us at

    Citation: A special thanks to Lydia Abbott for her terrific post, “8 Millennials’ Traits You Should Know About Before Hiring Them.” It was reassuring to read a Millennials’ take on her own generation. I sourced from Lydia’s piece at the beginning of this post.

    Robert Acton
    Rob Acton is Principal & Founder of Cause Strategy Partners, a purpose-driven social enterprise that believes in harnessing the power of business for social good. We are proud to be a Certified B Corporation. BoardLead is our signature board recruitment, placement, training and support program. In 2016, Cause Strategy Partners was named an inaugural honoree of the Best for NYC Award for demonstrated outstanding commitment to the community where we live and work. Learn more by visiting

    NextGen Board Members: An Untapped (But Potent) Resource

    20Board Service, CauseKit, Millennials September, 15

    Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be  written the history of this generation. – Robert F. Kennedy

    According to a 2015 national survey of nonprofit boards conducted byBoardSource, board chairs across the country assign, on average, a C+ to their board’s overall composition. Perhaps more concerning, just 20% of nonprofit chief executives indicate they have the right board members in place to accomplish mission. The majority of chief executives (58%) indicate that it is difficult to find new board members.

    The picture seems bleak, doesn’t it? Nonprofits lack the governing boards they need to accomplish mission while, at the same time, nonprofit leaders feel stymied in their effort to recruit talented, fresh, energized new board members.

    Despite facing these very real challenges in board development, the nonprofit sector is overlooking an important pool of talent: namely, earlier-career professionals. BoardSource found that 84% of elected board members sitting in boardrooms across the country are over the age of 40, as are 91% of nonprofit CEOs. Essentially, a generation of talented professionals is currently sitting on the governance sidelines, left warming the bench.

    What a mistake. Earlier-career professionals offer relevant expertise in skill areas of importance to any 501(c)(3) organization including technology, finance, strategy, marketing, communications, and human resources. They tend to enjoy large networks of colleagues and friends eager to make a difference and engage in their community. Many of these professionals work for top companies in our communities that support board service through volunteer time out of the office, employee matching gifts, training opportunities, and dollars-for-doers programs. They have the ability to infuse energy, enthusiasm and new points of view into the board room, perhaps even shifting board culture over time, strengthening a governing body’s overall level of engagement.

    But are they good investments? Given the amount of time it takes to find, recruit, vet, nominate, elect and onboard a new board member, will positive returns flow from an earlier-career professional? Will they be interested in serving for the right reasons? Or will their actions prove consistent with the label too easily assigned to Millennials: The Me Generation?

    Our firm, Cause Strategy Partners, LLC, recently collaborated withThe Heckscher Foundation for Children and three top companies based in New York City to recruit, place, train and support next generation board members for 16 children and youth serving nonprofit boards. What we learned through this program, called BoardLead, was heartening and reinforced what we believed going in: earlier-career professionals are a tremendous — though largely untapped — source of talent for nonprofit boards.

    Some context: We presented the opportunity to 112 professionals in their 20s and 30s at our three collaborating companies in June and July of 2015. After learning what nonprofit board service entails — the commitment, fiduciary duties, expectations, key roles and the like — 66 candidates applied for a seat on a board. The group was relatively diverse: 67% of applicants were female; 23% African American, 12% Asian, and 5% Hispanic or Latino. Almost all were under the age of 40. Through our comprehensive application process, we gathered a great deal of information about the personal backgrounds and interests of these candidates, providing a compelling glimpse into the profile of a next generation board member.

    They are Involvement-Seekers, Not Resume-Builders

    When asked to identify their top motivations for wanting to serve, BoardLead candidates overwhelming pointed to a desire to roll up their sleeves and get involved.

    • Make a positive impact on the community (74% of respondents)
    • Work on an issue I care about (73%)
    • Use my skills in a different operating environment (52%)

    Motivations that are more self-focused in nature were much less important to our earlier-career candidates:

    • Build my professional network (23%)
    • Collaborate with community leaders (18%)
    • Add a leadership experience to my resume (11%)

    They are Ready to Invest Time, But Meeting Structure Matters

    Because they are Involvement-Seekers, earlier-career professionals aren’t interested in board service solely to attend 4 or 6 meetings a year. Rather, they want to get to work. They want to make an impact. In fact, 74% of our board candidates indicate that they are prepared to dedicate 6 0r more hours per month to their organization.

    How are you engaging your board members between meetings? Are you giving them opportunities outside of the boardroom to make an impact utilizing their core strengths?

    Of course, despite their interest in a more well-rounded approach to governance, as we preach to all of our board candidates, presence matters. A highly-engaged board member must prepare for, attend and participate in all board meetings.  Yet, for this age group more than most, the day of the week and the time of the meeting is an important consideration. We discovered that 98% of our earlier-career professionals can attend board meetings on weekday evenings, but just 42% are able to attend during work hours. This makes sense. At an earlier stage in one’s career, a professional simply has less flexibility to arrive late or leave early to meet other personal and professional commitments.

    Have you structured board service in ways that will work for the full range of professionals in your community?

    They Stand Prepared to Both Give and Get

    Though their pockets may not be as deep as more senior members of the board, earlier-career professionals are prepared to make annual contributions to support the organization. Of the candidates we worked with this year through BoardLead, 86% plan to give $1000 or more as an annual contribution, half will give $2500, and an impressive one-third will give $5000 or more.

    They also stand ready to commit to a give/get expectation. Fully 97% indicated they would participate in their organization’s fundraising effort and 44% indicated they would expect to raise at least $5000 each year from their network.

    NextGen Board Members “Got Skills

    Self-aware that their highest and greatest use to a nonprofit will not rest in making $25,000 or $50,000 annual contributions, earlier-career professionals are eager to leverage their core skill set from a seat on the board. Because they are Involvement-Seekers, they see for themselves a key role in engaging their talents as much as their treasure, network and time.

    Consider the vast array of skills that are flowing into nonprofits through the next generation board members we are placing from just three companies in NYC: finance and financial management, strategy and strategy management, marketing, IT, start-up experience, executive management, human resources, communications and PR, legal, real estate, accounting, event planning and the like.  The list goes on and on.

    In my next post, I’ll share specifics about what we are doing to successfully recruit and engage earlier-career professionals for nonprofit boards. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you’ve discovered through your experiences. Join the conversation by commenting below.

    Robert B. Acton is Principal & Founder of Cause Strategy Partners, LLC, a consulting social enterprise that partners with foundations, corporations and social good organizations to help nonprofits achieve their missions fueled by great leadership, great strategy and, most importantly, great results.  Visit us at

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