Originally published in Crain’s New York: New blood for nonprofit boards
Over the years, Celine Dufetel had attended a few events to benefit City Harvest, a charity devoted to helping alleviate hunger. It was an issue that was important to her because her grandparents and great-grandparents didn’t always have enough to eat. So when she started thinking about getting involved in a nonprofit, she called City Harvest’s management, and six months ago, she joined the board.
“I really wanted to give back, and this was a cause and an organization I believe in,” said the 33-year-old, who is a managing director at Neuberger Berman.
Nonprofits are always on the lookout for potential board members, but Ms. Dufetel filled a special need for City Harvest: dedicated people under the age of 40. City Harvest Executive Director Jilly Stephens has been on a quest for young blood since she realized the cohort was missing from her board about three years ago after doing a strategic plan.
“I looked at the demographic of our board, and there was no one under 40,” said Ms. Stephens. “It really stood out.”
Indeed, finding young people with the time, talent, passion for the cause and the financial means to join the board has become a critical issue for the majority of the city’s nonprofits.
The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is launching a group with lower donation expectations to attract younger people. Pencil Inc. recently started two advisory committees for which members are required to make a financial contribution that is not as high as it is for board members so the organization can get more people to lend their expertise. And Mouse has designated a board seat for a graduate of one of its after-school tech programs. The organization is 17 years old, so some of its graduates should have established careers.
Hard to find
“Everyone wants Mark Zuckerberg or Oprah Winfrey to be on their board,” said Daniel Rabuzzi, executive director of Mouse, which has a budget of $1.6 million. “But you have to reach out to people in their 20s and 30s and hope they grow with you.”
Finding individuals under 40 to join boards has never been easy. Typically, it is the time to build careers and raise families. Power brokers such as Henry Kravis and Shelly Lazarus, who sit on numerous boards, are well past that stage in their lives.
But some say the task is more difficult now as careers have become more demanding, more women are working and volunteer options proliferate. And amid the digital boom, there is a desperate need for members with technological knowledge in addition to the traditional skills such as finance, law and marketing.
Tech is also attractive because it is a relatively new sector in New York, so its executives might not have developed loyalties to organizations, though many are wealthy beyond their years.
Identifying interested people is only the beginning of the relationship. The bond must be nurtured and fortified. For about 13 years, City Harvest, which has a budget of $27.3 million, has cultivated younger fundraisers in a group known as Generation Harvest.
However, the group, mostly in its 20s and 30s, had become too big, not committed enough, and had never produced a board member. In the summer of 2013, City Harvest slashed Generation Harvest to 18 members from 45, while the amount they are expected to give or raise jumped to $5,000 a year from $1,500.
“We are trying to get a group of people who are dedicated to our mission,” said Ms. Stephens. “Now they are all really involved.”
Broadening the base is important to avoid burnout among existing members. For 30 years, Martha Glass has been involved in the Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering, a fundraising organization composed of women. In the early days, Ms. Glass said, there were fewer working women, and those interested in charity didn’t have so many options.
“Now I look around and realize I’m always depending on the same group of people,” said Ms. Glass, who is currently the society’s president. “People just don’t have the time.” Last month, it established the Society Circle, which Ms. Glass hopes will attract people in their 20s and 30s. They will be expected to give or raise between $500 and $5,000 a year. Current members must give more than $5,000.
Ms. Glass plans to start a social-media campaign to raise awareness of the new group and handed out fliers at a shopping fundraiser last month. “I need to start somewhere,” she said.
Pencil, which fosters relationships between businesses and public schools, is hoping to draw younger donors through new groups set up last summer. The first is the Young Professional Council, which targets people in their 20s, who are expected to donate only $5,000 a year. Another, the Executive Leadership Council, is designed to attract people in their 30s and requires members to give or get $25,000. Pencil’s board members are also required to come up with $25,000 annually, but that amount is expected to rise.
“We want to work with a variety of people to benefit our family,” said David Weiner, president of Pencil, which has a budget of $4 million.
Pencil is fortunate that it has found some young tech executives who are willing to donate their time and money. In October 2013, tech-education firm 2U’s co-founder Jeremy Johnson joined Pencil’s board. Mr. Johnson said he was intrigued by its mission.
“Education is an issue that is near and dear to my heart,” said the 30-year-old. Mr. Johnson said he wasn’t actively looking to be on a board when he heard about Pencil, but then welcomed the idea. “I wanted to do something I enjoy and something where I added value,” he said.
Mr. Johnson said he has been approached by a few other nonprofits but doesn’t have much spare time because he just started another company. “You have to be realistic about what you can do,” he said.
Nonprofits with some stars on their boards may find it easier to attract young people. Troy Dixon joined the Apollo Theater board three years ago because he wanted to work with an organization dedicated to inner-city youth, and his parents grew up in Harlem. However, it didn’t hurt that the board is chaired by Richard Parsons, the former chairman of Citigroup who also led Time Warner.
“I get to see Dick and how he operates,” said the 43-year-old, who is chief executive of Hollis Park Partners, an investment firm he founded. “I’ve learned a lot.”
The Apollo has been bringing on other younger board members, such as music star Pharrell Williams, who joined a few months ago. And even though Mr. Dixon doesn’t have his colleagues’ fame, he receives three to four overtures a month from other boards. He is already on the board of Boys Hope Girls Hope in Brooklyn, and with three young children to raise, Mr. Dixon doesn’t see how he could fit another board into his schedule. “I want to go deep, not wide,” he said.
To read the original article, please click here