May 22

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Intentional board changes can build a future for non-profits

A few years ago I tried skeet shooting. I didn’t do well (which is good because I never found a good recipe for grilled skeet!) I discovered the trick was anticipating the position of the clay disc in the air and pulling the trigger at the right time to make sure the shot hit the moving target. Timing and practice are the key elements to success. Although you can usually figure out where the disk will be, your actions to shoot it out of the sky need intentional decisions to make it happen. Hoping for success won’t cut it.

Non-profit volunteer boards often hope the future of their organization is secure without taking intentional steps to make it so. When positions on the board become available it often falls to the existing members to seek replacements, usually from their own networks. In other words, they will usually find people just like them.

That’s where intentionality becomes important. If a board keeps replacing itself with the same kind of board member, it will naturally age and eventually cease to exist. However, if it is diligent in finding younger people to become involved in the organization, it will naturally be introduced to a new network.

A recent webinar on engaging younger donors in support of non-profits noted that although some organizations may ask younger people for input, they will not necessarily provide opportunities for them to assume leadership positions. This trend reduces the board’s ability to understand the current social environment.

As boards explore ways to intentionally refresh their composition, it’s important to consider what kinds of people and skills the board needs for good decision-making. Most of the time those competencies centre on financial skills. But a board needs more than financial smarts. What about understanding the changing world around them?  For example, although board members know younger people spend a lot of time online, how many of them bring to the table a thorough understanding of what that means? It’s easy to lament the lack of engagement by a new generation, but does anyone sitting around the table know how reach out to them?

Over the years I’ve challenged boards to recruit or find potential board members who are half their age. I call it the “better by half” approach: a sixty-year-old finds a thirty-year-old. And don’t have a “token” younger member; he or she brings to the board your future. Give them the same respect and responsibilities given everyone.

In addition to infusing a board with younger blood (thereby introducing the possibility of longer-term survival) the younger person comes with their personal network. Studies show that young adults display a high level of peer engagement with causes and organizations. One or more young person on the board and the interest spreads.

Next time your board or council meets look around the group and see where you could be “better by half.” If Adnams Group can help you in the process, let us know.

Good governance doesn’t happen by accident. It takes planning and intentional decisions. Change happens when you are doing it on purpose.

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