Monday, June 15, 2009

Getting Younger Members on Boards

Jeff De Cagna was kind enough to point me to a report done by the reputable organization, BoardSource, that describes the results of some research they did on how to engage the talents of Generations X and Y on nonprofit Boards. I’m a bit flummoxed by the whole thing. I’ll give you some actual quotes from the report, sprinkled with my commentary. I apologize in advance for the sarcasm, but honestly this whole thing is just a bit odd to me.

They want to “stimulate thinking and action among nonprofits regarding the roles they can play to engage Generations X (born 1965-1979) and Y (born 1980-2000) in good governance.”

[okay, I’m already annoyed because they did that silly Generation X is only 14 years for no good reason thing, but they’re not alone in that. I can let it slide.]

So to do that, they interview 50 Nonprofit Chief Executives and Senior staff leaders

[Who are likely to be overwhelmingly Boomers. Right? Does this sound weird to you?]

Here are some of their findings:

BoardSource learned that younger board members view board experience as synonymous with leadership development, so spearheading committees, setting fundraising goals, and measuring progress against those goals are common ways that organizations benefit from their zeal.

[Ummmm. You learned that younger board members like doing things, and that this can benefit your organization? Wow. Stop the presses. Also note that they learned this about young people by asking 50 old people.]

Generations X and Y want to be involved in meaningful work, not busy work.

[As opposed to Boomers and Silent generation who really despise meaningful work and will always choose busy work?]

The also asked these senior leaders what might be holding the Boards back from bringing in younger members:

Some interviewees say that they do not know where to find prospective Generation X and Y board members. Their boards comprise mostly Baby Boomers, who tend to recruit other Baby Boomers.

[Walk down the hall!!!! Generation X is something like 40% of the workforce.]

Chief executives express concerns that a solitary Generation X or Y board member might not fit in with other members of the board and feel isolated.

More specifically:

Generations X and Y board members typically have a perspective that differs from older board members, who, if feeling challenged, may single out that perspective and demand that it be justified.

[Okay, we don’t bring on Gen X and Y because we’re afraid they won’t fit in and would be isolated. Of course the existing older board members apparently don’t like to feel challenged ever, so they single out opposing voices and demand they justify themselves. Did the people who gave these answers hear themselves talking?]

Here’s another gem:

Board members unaccustomed to constructive debate can view younger board members as an aggravation, especially when the younger members’ views challenge the status-quo and the consequence of debate might be a loss of respect for each other’s opinions.

[If your Board cant’ handle debate or anything that challenges the status quo, you’ve got much bigger fish to fry than attracting Gen X and Gen Y.]

[So what do these younger folks need to be successful on the Board? Better communication skills:]

Interviewees tell us that technology is not always the best way to show personal sentiments. To add a more personal touch, they recommend younger board leaders pick up the phone and talk to fellow board members, meet face-to-face, and consider using pen and paper to draft thank-you letters.

[And they also need to work on their “teambuilding”:]

Interviewees note that younger generations must be able to look beyond their own piece of the work and care about the board's overall work. When joining a board committee, interviewees suggest younger members ask, “What contribution can I make to help the team succeed” rather than say, "I'll be on the team, but let me do my piece by myself.”

[In other words, in order to be successful on these boards, young people, it’s really important that you act more like Baby Boomers.]

Sorry for the rant, but I find articles and reports like this tend to take us AWAY from where we need to go. They are structured around generational differences yet don't particularly reveal a nuanced understanding of generational differences, and the interviews are done of a homogenous group. The results are predictable and don't really further any interesting dialogue or new sets of questions. I think we need to do better.


Maddie Grant said...

Wow. Heinous. I've actually recently been asked to be on an association board, and I said yes because somehow I need MORE stuff on my plate (ha), but I am also curious about experiencing this first hand, since I think I'll be the youngest on the board by at least 15 years (and at 37 I'm not exactly young). I'm actually coming from the point of view that I'm impressed they actually asked me in the first place, so we'll see what happens. Happy to report back (though term won't start for a few months).

Eric Lanke said...

As you say, Maddie, at least they're asking the younger generation to join the Board. Too often you hear the refrain that GenX isn't experienced enough to serve on the Board. I wonder if the report also included the advice to GenXers that they serve on more committees and "pay their dues" first.

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