Starting a Young Professionals Board? Keep these tips in mind to start strong! posted 07/02/14

By Kevin Haar, Jr.
Chairperson and Founding Board Member

It’s an absolute pleasure to introduce Ann DeBerge for this Launch guest blog post. Ann is one of the most instrumental figures in the early success of Launch St. Louis, and we simply wouldn’t be where we are today without her involvement. Today, she’s in Chicago working in Alumni Relations and Development for Northwestern University School of Law. Ann, take it from here…

While I’m by no means an expert, I share this advice with the hope that it will help promote young leadership in the non-profit community. As a founding member of Launch St. Louis, and the Gilda’s Club St. Louis Young Leadership Council before that, I have a bit of knowledge on what it takes to get a young professionals board off the ground.

Before you take off running, take a good look at who’s at your table

While your group can succeed with any combination of backgrounds, possessing a few key skills in-house will go a long way in seeing your YP group through from a great idea to effective young board. Of course you can target your board recruitment for these and other skills as you grow, but you’ll benefit if any of your founding members know at least a little in the following areas.

  • Marketing/Design – Need a logo? Webpage? Event flyer? A name? The workload is marketing-heavy in the first few months, even if your young group is being created under an established governing board; make the most of your entrance onto the scene by getting your name and your message out there with style.
  • Non-Profit/fundraising – Forgive me if this goes without saying, but if you’re going to be raising funds, holding events, and touting your cause in the community, having one or more folks on board with some experience navigating the non-profit world – whether in a professional role, as a volunteer, a consultant, etc. – is important. (And usually falls into place organically.)
  • Knowledge about/experience with the cause you’re supporting – Sometimes it’s easier to rally around a cause when there’s a personal investment, and it can be a tremendous benefit if one or more (or all) of the founding members has a stake in its success.
  • Some prior board experience – Board Bylaws, Unanimous Written Consent policy, approval processes, meeting minutes, format of board meetings (i.e. Robert’s Rules of Order)…there is a lot of official business that comes along with running a board (or running it right). Having some knowledge of board structure and proceedings is helpful (and again…don’t sweat it, you’ll probably have some capable, experienced folks on your team naturally).
  • Legal – Some of the tasks you’ll be undertaking, especially if your group is brand new and not nested under a governing board or within a larger non-profit, will be made easier if you have someone on your side who knows about the legal ins and outs of getting a non-profit off the ground. For example, do you need a Conflict of Interest Policy; do you have Articles of Incorporation and know how to file for 501(c)3 status; who will submit your annual statement with the Secretary of State?

Treat it like a marathon, not a 50-yard dash

Pace is key at the beginning; try not to get ahead of yourself. Likely, the type of folks involved in a venture like starting a young professionals board are forward-thinking, industrious, intelligent and enthusiastic go-getters who are eager to jump in and make things happen. Remember, though, to keep your end goal (a well-designed and autonomous young professionals board) in mind as you tackle each step along the way. It’s important to think ahead and determine what/who you’ll need in place to accomplish your key goals, both at the start and further along in your group’s tenure.

As you recruit board members, help your new additions avoid sitting idle

You have some new, awesome additions to your young board. Let’s make sure they know why they’re here and what their roles entail. A comprehensive outline of each committee’s roles and responsibilities will be helpful to ensure that every board member feels (and is!) useful and valuable. Whenever you invite a new member to your board, make sure he or she has a clear idea of how they can contribute in a concrete way. This will not only help you run an effective board, it will also keep your board membership from turning stagnant.

As you recruit board members, remember that this isn’t for everybody

You’re eager to grow, and it sure feels good to have capable new members come aboard. But don’t grow just to grow. Instituting board development guidelines that dictate how a new member is interviewed, nominated, invited and approved help to make your recruitment/nomination process more efficient, and can be a good way to vet both sides for a fit.

Remember to plan for the future as your group evolves

It’s probably clear by now that, in my opinion, thinking ahead, planning out your next steps before you take them, and having solid processes in place are all important in starting and running a young board. When you enter year two, keep this mindset as you take on new opportunities or expand your vision.

For example, let’s say things are going great in year one and your newly formed Associate Board has become a successful advocate of literacy in the young professional community, mostly by holding events to raise funds for and educate about the parent organization. If your strategic plan includes expanding the scope of your message in year three by connecting local businesses with the programs your parent organizations supports, better start now by building out a corporate partnerships committee to establish your pitch, cultivate relationships, gauge interest, track partnership info, etc. When the time comes to implement these partnerships, you’ve got a structure in place and you’re ready to go.

Last but not least…

I hope to see young leadership continue to grow among the St. Louis non-profit community, as well as in other markets across the country, in the coming years. The task of building a young professionals board, whatever shape it may take, is extremely valuable, and the impact of these young boards is vital to the philanthropic community.

Start building your young friends board today

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