Is your current Board comprised of established members – constituents who have been a part of your organization for a decade or longer? Over the past few weeks, I have found myself in conversation with several non-profit leaders where this topic has been raised. The consistent concerns are twofold:
- How do we continue to engage this important (and aging) group; and
- How do we attract and engage the “next generation” of leaders?
Let’s take the first group first. Obviously, it is important to continue to recognize and thank your faithful leaders. But it is also important to read their cues. In other words, do you have a Board member who is getting tired? Is he/she hinting that it may be time to take a less active role with the organization? The best approach is simply to have a conversation with this person. Invite him/her for coffee or lunch and listen. Ask open-ended questions. Find out how they would like to stay engaged and informed.
If your organization does not have one, perhaps you should consider creating an Advisory Council or a President’s Council. Designed to meet the needs of your organization and a select group of constituents, this type of “board” typically meets only once a year for lunch and a “state of the organization”-type presentation. In addition, the members of this Council may be consulted occasionally for advice or assistance. This arrangement is typically a “win-win” for members and the organization alike.
It is equally important to “listen” to the senior Board members who want to continue to be active and engaged. Unfortunately, I have seen active Board members forced to “resign” to a role as a Life Trustee – or something less meaningful – as a way to open a Board spot for someone else. This can be a big mistake, as some may take offense and become less engaged, both with their time and their resources.
In terms of attracting the “next generation” – it is also important to listen and understand what type of volunteer work they are interested in and what role they may want to play with the organization. It’s typically a good idea to find more entry level roles for younger constituents – perhaps they can help with a benefit or serve on a Junior Board. This helps both the volunteer and the organization get acquainted before making a potentially bigger commitment, such as a Board role. It is also fun to identify and cultivate family members – children or other relatives of Board members or volunteers – as they typically have a good understanding of the mission and may be interested in developing a relationship with the organization as well.
In any of these scenarios, it is often just a matter of observing, asking good questions – and truly listening to the needs and interests of your constituents. Which simply translates into good development.