Rutland is a city with deep community roots and a sense of civic engagement. Almost any weekend you can find an event, fundraiser, or mixer with the goal of strengthening our community in some way. But who is doing all this good work? Often times, the secret army that runs Rutland is a network of volunteer boards and committees. I once heard a prominent city official say “you couldn’t roll a bowling ball down Center Street without hitting 10 nonprofits.” While it’s laudable that Rutland hosts numerous community organizations, there is always a need for fresh board members to bring in new ideas and enthusiasm.
The Rutland Young Professionals, (a volunteer, board-run, nonprofit) often gets referral requests from other nonprofit organizations. In fact, most of the board members for RYP sit on at least one other board. With that in mind, we’d like to offer some tips to those YP’s looking to join their first board, and to the organizations looking to bring on a new YP board member.
Tips for young professionals looking to join their first board:
1. Be aware of the commitment. Many boards meet at least once a month, and will often have homework assignments in between meetings. On top of this, you may be assigned to a committee that also meets once a month, and be expected to attend special events. Make sure you are aware of the full commitment before agreeing to join a board
2. Learn the etiquette. Most boards adhere to set of bylaws and conduct meetings using Robert’s Rules of Order. Though these practices are not always followed, it’s good to familiarize yourself with concepts like quorum, voting, executive sessions, and public meeting laws.
3. Don’t be afraid to speak up. You are on the board to bring your perspective and ideas to an organization. Often boards will get stuck doing the same things the same way. Your job is to offer new alternatives that might improve efficiency, or point out concepts that may be dated.
4. Don’t be afraid to say “No”. Once your talents as a new board member are recognized, you’ll start getting interest from other boards and committees. While the first impulse might be “I’d love to join and help out!” remember that each extra board carries extra commitments. It can be easy to stretch yourself too thin. By learning to say no, and by picking boards and committees that are most important to you, you’ll ensure that the quality of your efforts doesn’t decline.
Tips for boards looking to recruit young professionals:
1. Have an orientation plan. For many young professionals, this may be their first board experience, so it’s important to show them the ropes. Go over the board bylaws, time commitments, meeting schedules, current initiatives, programs, and organizational history.
2. Don’t assume their skillset. Many organizations need help with website management, graphic design and social media, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking all young professionals are experts in these fields. Yes, young professionals were raised with computers, but many of these skills are still fairly specialized. If a non-profit board is only bringing on a young person because they need somebody to “do their Facebook”, they better clarify that expectation with the board prospect first.
3. Be aware of financial obligations. Many nonprofits mandate that their board members give a set dollar amount every year, as part of their board obligation. For a young professional, who is early in their career and likely saddled with college debt, this can be the biggest turn-off when considering whether to join a board. Instead, recommend a yearly donation, but leave the amount up to the board member. Young professionals can offer a lot of intangible assets to a board, so don’t scare them off with the expectation that they need to write a check they can’t afford.
4. Let them speak, and respect their opinion. One great reason to get young professionals on your board is to gain a new perspective. Organizations that don’t change with the times, often don’t survive, so it’s very important to listen to what a young professional has to say. With that in mind, make sure to ask questions and prompt responses during the board meeting. A new board member may be unsure of whether to speak up at first, so create opportunities for them to talk.
Rutland has amazing momentum right now, but maintaining it requires new generations of volunteers and civic minded young people to pick up where the last generation left off. By keeping an open mind, and setting up realistic expectations on both sides, Rutland’s nonprofit organizations should be able to keep elevating the city for years to come.
Will Gormly is the immediate past president of the board of Rutland Young Professionals.