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 www.causestrategypartners.com.
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.