Get on board

What kind of person do you picture when you hear the words board of directors? Take a few seconds and think about it. Now, take out the old white guy you’re imagining, and put yourself in.

Yes, you. Millennials are vastly underrepresented on boards of directors in the nonprofit world—only 17% of nonprofit board members are under the age of 40 (meanwhile, more than half are over 50). While a typical board recruit might be someone with decades of job experience, young professionals have more to offer as board members than one might think. 

Why me?

If you’ve ever spent time as your workplace’s token millennial, you might feel like your assets are limited to meme translations and Instagram captions. But don’t let impostor syndrome get to you—young professionals bring some serious strengths to the table.

  • We’re plugged in. As digital natives—people who grew up with computers and internet access—millennials offer digital literacy skills that are essential for any organization.
  • We offer a fresh perspective. Compared to other generations, millennials place more value on social impact, workplace equity, and sustainability.
  • We are the future. Millennials are the largest generation in human history, and we’re the ones influencing culture and trends for decades to come.

Until recently, I had never pictured myself on any board of directors. But hearing my coworkers—two other millennial women—chat about their own board roles at other organizations helped me see that as a real option (representation matters!).

This spring, I took on my first nonprofit board member role at the age of 24. There’s certainly been a learning curve—from strategic planning to voting protocol—but I’m so glad I took the chance and applied.

How do I start?

Not unlike job-searching, the key to finding the right board position involves a mix-and-match of passions, skills, and availability. Applying as a prospective board member can seem intimidating, but in my experience, organizations are almost always thrilled to see a qualified candidate eager to lend their time and expertise.

For me, the opportunity arose from an organization I was already interested in. Think about the nonprofits you follow on social media or that place you’d love to work but have never found an opening. I happened to see a direct call for new board members posted online, but even if you’re not responding to a specific request, it doesn’t hurt to send an email just to let an organization know you’d like to get more deeply involved.

While I still stumble when I introduce myself as a board member—and while some folks still seem surprised to hear those words from someone like me—I’m feeling more and more comfortable and confident in my new role and the strengths I bring. And I’m telling every young person I know to thinking about joining a nonprofit board—they need us.

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