So you want to start a non-profit young friends board? Learn from my mistakes! posted 04/04/14

By Jon Franko

This guest blog post is from a good friend of Launch St. Louis – Ms. Leslie Hodges.

Leslie is the Chairperson for the Young Friends of the St. Louis University Liver Center and is one of the driving forces behind their fantastic young associates board. Here are some great pointers from Leslie about what NOT to do when building a young friends board. 

I hated physics class in school, but I have to admit that Isaac Newton was probably onto something when he created his First Law of Motion – an object at rest tends to stay at rest. For many young professionals, this age-old adage is the biggest roadblock to starting a non-profit young professional (YP) group. In my case, it took us more than 10 years to get the Young Friends of the SLU Liver Center (YFSLULC) started. Luckily, Launch St. Louis provided the push we needed. Even with the help of Launch, we made plenty of mistakes. Here are a few I hope you can learn from.

Start small

Raising money for your favorite cause doesn’t have to start with a grand gala. In fact, for many YPs, their social lives are already jam-packed, so pick a small, easy fundraiser to get your feet wet. Check local restaurants or stores to see if you can partner up for an evening of dining/shopping where they will donate a portion of the proceeds to your cause. This is a great way to get your friends and family involved without the huge financial commitment that comes with throwing a large event.

Get organized

I am a procrastinator. Big time. Looking back, that is probably one of the biggest reasons it took 10 years to get YFSLULC off the ground. I didn’t have a deadline. Even though we had a parent board chugging along, the YP group was a pie-in-the-sky idea with no pressure to get it started. We needed a deadline. More than that, we needed a plan.

Use online tools and resources (like Launch) to develop a timeline for your new organization. Don’t forget to also make a plan for building out your board with YPs that have expertise in areas you may not – attorneys, marketing gurus and accountants. Try to hold regular meetings and stick to your plan, otherwise 10 years may pass by before you know it.

Don’t go it alone

If you have a great idea or cause to raise money for, it is likely that someone else will think so too. Grab a friend and get started executing your plan. You might be surprised at how the wildfire grows in the most unexpected ways. In our case, it started with organic growth through adding friends-of-friends and co-workers.

Don’t be afraid to look for outsiders though. Volunteer fairs and websites like can be helpful in finding others that share your passion. Once established, you may want to consider creating a partnership with other YP boards…”if you attend our event, we’ll attend yours!” It’s a great way to expand your network and help a good cause while having fun.

Learn the difference between worker bees and seat fillers

But remember – you need both! Just like when you did class projects, there are the handful of people that can be depended on to do any job necessary (worker bees), but there are also the people that show up at will and appear to contribute less (seat fillers). You need both.

The worker bees may carry the weight, but the seat fillers might surprise you. They could have a connection that leads to an in-kind donation you need, or they may recruit friends and family to attend your event. Don’t underestimate the seat fillers…but don’t forget to show appreciation for the worker bees.

Give people something to do

I know it’s probably hard to believe, but not a lot of YPs seem interested in liver disease. Starting out, our group made the mistake of focusing solely on throwing events to raise money for research at SLU’s Liver Center. Although it was accomplishing our mission, it failed to actively engage all members of our board. It took losing a handful of members before we made the connection that most YPs are looking for something to do and a way to connect with the mission rather than to just give money.

Since then, we have developed a plan to create care packages for patients in clinical trials. This will allow our YPs to get their hands dirty while making a difference.

You can do it

Most of the young professionals driven enough to want to start a non-profit are the same people spending countless hours being rock stars at their day jobs. Supporting a cause you believe in doesn’t have to be another full-time job, but it does take some commitment to get it started.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes as you start your non-profit endeavor.

Start building your young friends board today

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