How to recruit more young people for your nonprofit board - Generocity Philly


Nov. 15, 2017 9:48 am

How to recruit more young people for your nonprofit board

It's about examining your blind spots and, maybe, asking for help from more plugged-in organizations.

Young Involved Philadelphia's 2014 board prep graduates.

(Photo via

How to Give” is a monthly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers. To ask her a question, tweet @FancyLansie.


I’m on the board of a mid-sized granting foundation and we’re having a big challenge attracting millennial board members. We know we need to focus on getting new people in from a succession planning perspective, but also because we want our board to be more reflective of Philadelphia as an evolving, growing city. Currently, no one is under the age of 65! It’s something that comes up almost every time we meet but no one has come up with a plan yet. Help!

You want a young person to help you give away money?

::raises hand and waves it frantically in the air::

Just kidding! I’m already on an amazing foundation board.

But in all seriousness, I feel your pain. So often in our workshops and panels we talk about the need to create awareness of the benefits of an intergenerational, diverse and active board … but we rarely focus on what happens after we know that something needs to change. We know we have a problem. Now how do we fix it?

Lansie to the rescue!

::stops waving arms frantically, dons incredibly chic and sparkly cape::

Examine your blind spots.

Barriers to entry aren’t always intentional, but as my mom used to say, “People can’t read your mind.” Your board may be comprised of thoughtful, caring, open individuals, but unless you take a step back to see how the outside community may perceive you, you risk creating unintentional hurdles toward millennial engagement.

So I’m about to get real with you: Examine the racial, cultural, sexual, gender-based and economic composition of your board as a whole. Are there big imbalances? Is it majority white, female, cis, affluent, etc.? If so, the age of your board might be only one of the perceived barriers to entry for millennials.

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Review your communication strategy.

Millennials get their information from a variety of sources, most of them online. Is your website up-to-date? Do you even have a website? Many foundations have minimal sites with just a list of their board members, grant requirements and past grantees. Beefing up the amount of information you share can be critical to attracting younger board members. Suggestions:

  • A statement of purpose — More than just your mission, you need to talk about why you were created, where you want to go and what change you want to have within the world.
  • A list of board members with bios — Board service is a significant commitment of resources, including time. Younger board members will often be juggling growth in careers, family and responsibilities, so they will be looking for boards that are filled with interesting people that can help them develop their skills and networks. Plus, everyone likes volunteering with people they respect and trust.
  • Stories of impact — This doesn’t need to be exhaustive, but a handful of stories demonstrating the types of grants you make and the impact they have within diverse communities will help bring your board to life and showcase the value of participation.

For inspiration, check out the Barra Foundation’s website. They do a wonderful job of talking about who they are, what they do and what they believe. If I’m a potential board member, it’s easy for me to get a sense of whether I’m the right fit for service there.

Be crystal clear on the requirements of Time, Talent and Treasure.

We’re all busy, but millennials are also in life stages of growth, change or flux.

Maturing Millennials (ages 30 to 37) are typically at a life stage where they’ll be climbing the job ladder, starting a family and buying a house — all big drains on available time and money.

So-called Digital Natives (ages 22 to 29) are navigating their early careers, and might have less disposable income but are looking for opportunities to gain leadership experience.

The two groups could have very different motivations for joining your board, so being upfront with what you expect is critical. Be clear on what the expectations for board giving, meeting attendance and committee participation will be. Something as granular as estimating hours of involvement per week is very helpful for someone who is heavily scheduled or needs to reprioritize their weekly or monthly responsibilities in order to serve with you.

Ask for help.

You mentioned that this challenge keeps coming up, and yet no one has really stepped forward to solve it. Hearing that, I sense some trepidation or anxiety that the board either feels ill equipped to take it on, or scared that they’ll come up with the wrong solution. Luckily, you can connect with several amazing organizations right here in Philly that are experts at millennial engagement!

It may not feel like it, but you’re in a great position — your board is looking toward the future, and our city is full of vibrant, engaged millennials eager to take their next step into new leadership positions. It’s only a matter of time before you connect with the right one(s). Forward!


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