How to Empower & Manage a Junior Board

By: Megan O’Connor Mershon

For the past six months, my partner and I have been bringing together the best and brightest development professionals to talk shop. We host interactive meetings under the name “Innovative Development Professionals” and provide an open, confidential forum for fundraisers and other nonprofit/foundation rock stars to talk through development activities. Instead of bringing in panel speakers who simply talk at the group, we work collaboratively to find solutions to members’ fundraising problems. At a recent gathering we discussed the daunting task of developing a junior board.

As mentioned above, our forums are confidential.  But know that this particular guest speaker was from a very large, very successful international agency. This notable organization has an extremely effective, active, celebrity filled, junior board.  Their effort was spearheaded by one ambitious development manager who gave us the raw, honest truth about what one needs to do to attract and keep the cream of the crop of young leadership boards.

Junior Board Management
Why put in all the effort?  Take a look at this recent article about the UN’s Young Entrepreneur group.  By the way “Young Entrepreneurs” is a far more enticing name than a “Junior Board “or worse yet… a “Young Leadership Committee”.

Our guest gave us the following tips in empowering and keeping a Junior Board:

1.  Manage Your Expectations – Junior Boards take up more time for less INITIAL money
.  Donors in their twenties and thirties most often don’t have the financial capacity to give in the same ways those later in their careers can. With that said, often times they require more attention than your major donors. If your organization is committed to starting a junior board you also need to be mentally prepared that at the start, these people will require more of your attention and contribute less to your bottom line.   Stay open and patient, they will produce.

2.  Inspire and Support Serious Ideas – Individuals in their 20s and 30s are often times noncommittal. As a generation that RSVPs to things via Facebook verses response cards, younger people often get away with canceling plans on a moment’s notice and not following through on promises. To avoid a junior board that makes lofty promises, but doesn’t deliver results, ask each board member that comes up with a fundraising idea to submit a proposal. Those who go through the trouble of submitting a proposal prove that they have the dedication and commitment to warrant your attention and capacity.

3.  Flex your communication style – In order to effectively manage a junior board, you need to communicate more than you think. Their level of activity will directly mirror your level of communication with them. As a result, get in the habit of sending weekly summaries of activities. Appoint a communications chair and put them in charge of compiling a weekly roundup newsletter that both gives an update on programs, but also tracks progress on the junior board’s projects.  Note, the communications you create can often be repurposed to send to other donor groups.

4.  Consider life stage – As you would with any other donor, consider the life stage of your junior board.  At this age, people get married, go to graduate school, change careers frequently and have children. As a result, while a member might have signed up for a three-year term, they can be one job offer away from needing to take a leave of absence from the board. Be patient and give junior board members their space. It’s not you, I promise, it’s them. They will come back to you when things settle down as they have already proven their demonstrated interest in the organization.

5.  Embrace & Respect the Party Animals – Younger people are particularly social. As a result, the fundraising activities of your junior board will likely be parties. Before you freak out, remember the following:

  • Party guest lists = an increased contact list for your organization.  Be sure to capture all those names and have a plan for what to do with those guests after the party is over.
  • Allow for the fact that people who are new to the world of philanthropy have an easier time asking people to purchase a ticket to an event than they do asking people to make an outright donation.  These events will ease your junior board members into making future asks on your behalf.  Be sure that you treat the friends they have brought to the table well.  Remember, we all want to be well liked and respected.  Give your junior board members a reason to be admired by their friends.  Inspire those friends to thank your junior board members for introducing them to you.

6. Attract the right group – With the junior board that I manage at my organization, we started attracting members using good ole’ networking techniques.  We reached out to those who had offered us pro bono assistance, volunteers or even those who had made contributions from the 20-30s age bracket. From there we asked each person to bring one friend to the first meeting. By starting with a group of people who had already engaged in some way with the organization, along with their friends, we started with a very tight knit group of individuals. Another way of attracting junior board candidates is to post an advertisement on your website. IDP members have tried this tacit and were pleasantly surprised how many people applied. Lastly, publicize your Junior Board activities. Potential new members are attracted to and apply for junior boards after seeing Facebook posts, tweets, event listings and other press mentions.

Near the end of our conversation, we came back around to the fact that this — all this work! — is the very reason why it’s hard to sell the idea of building a junior board to senior management.  Our guest’s bottom line was this:  Engaging the a junior board will add enthusiasm and energy to your board meetings, bring a new skill set to the table and increase your reach.  Also, we know that there are immediate financial benefits to attracting the (grown) children of high net worth families to our work.   It’s worth it when done right.

Megan is the Development Manager at Goods for Goods and on the side writes another fashion blog –

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