Don’t have any millennials on your nonprofit board yet? Your future might be tough.
There are a whole heck of a lot of good reasons to target millennial visitors and supporters. They are not visiting cultural organizations at representative rates, they aren’t magically aging into increased care for arts and culture, and – perhaps most importantly – data suggest that millennial audiences may be an organization’s best audiences.
But what about how cultural organizations are engaging millennial leadership within institutions? It’s time to get more millennials involved on nonprofit boards of directors – particularly for larger, prominent organizations with annual operating budgets >$30 million and/or annual attendance >1 million for visitor-serving organizations. Representation on these types of boards seems to be particularly lacking – and that’s not good, as many smaller organizations often emulate the practices of their larger cohorts.
Neglecting millennial board representation doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t loads of important conversations taking place in these millennial bereft boardrooms about how to better engage this valuable cohort. It seems that many organizations are stuck in the mud of dialogue instead of finding traction in actually doing something constructive to meet this opportunity where it counts most. I have found that it’s not uncommon at many board meetings for there to be numerous baby boomers – and a few members of Generation X – waxing poetic about the urgent need to engage millennials without any input from actual millennials.
The time has come for organizations to sink or swim based on how effectively they engage millennials – and that may be particularly hard to do when nobody tasked to govern and lead these organizations is actually a member of this generation.
To be fair, there are some organizations that are moving forward and integrating millennials into their boards and strategic decision-making processes. I am a millennial serving on the Board of Directors at the National Aquarium during an incredibly important time for the organization’s future. I am grateful for this opportunity – but I also know that I’m one of relatively few millennials on the board of a larger nonprofit or a museum.
Don’t have at least one millennial on your board of directors yet? Here are five critical reasons to implore the nominating committee to start cultivating some impressive millennials to serve on your nonprofit board right now:
1) Millennials represent the largest generation in human history
…So not having at least one of them on your board may be a bit out of touch. Until Generation Y came along, baby boomers represented the largest generational cohort in the United States. However, at nearly 90 million strong, millennials have baby boomers outnumbered by an estimated 20 million people. As boomers age, this divide will continue to grow. This statistic alone should be more than enough to make executive leaders pause to consider the future of their organizations. Moreover, millennials will tip the scales in terms of buying power in the United States this year, and our economy will feel the beneficial impact of their increasing consumerism by 2017.
2) Millennials will have primary influence on culture and society for an unprecedented duration
…So not having one on your board is delaying an inevitable future and holding back progress. Millennials who have children are not having as many of them as their baby boomer parents. Moreover, Generation X (which is only roughly half the size of Generation Y) is simply too small in number to give birth to a future, large generation. Simply put, America’s birth-over-death rate is not increasing at the historic rates established by baby boomers. This means that millennials will remain the largest generational demographic in the United States for a much longer period of time than did the baby boomers – or any prior generation to date.
3) Millennial support is necessary from a policy standpoint
…And if your organization does not get millennials involved in understanding policy-related challenges and opportunities from a leadership buy-in perspective, you may be voting against your own best interests. In fact, millennials may significantly influence the outcomes of the next six presidential elections. Indeed, this depends upon millennials actually voting, but building any aspect of your organization’s survival strategy upon 90 million people not turning out for elections is a stupid strategy. Moreover, millennials will eventually dominate a vast majority of government leadership positions – mandatory government retirement policies dictate this math. Inviting millennials onto your board helps ensure that your organization’s best interests are well-represented and maximally protected.
4) Engaging millennials requires immediate, strategic shifts in leadership mentalities
…Far beyond simply using social media. Engaging millennials isn’t merely a communication medium opportunity (especially because data suggests that millennials are not even close to the only audiences using social media). Engaging millennials requires new ways of thinking about marketing, development, human resources and operations, and even new strategic practices regarding things like membership. Millennial board members may provide valuable perspective regarding their own peer group and generational mindset.
5) What your organization actually DOES is more important than ever before
…And aiming to be seen as an organization welcoming millennials without actually welcoming millennials where it counts is inconsistent. We live in a world now where everybody (not only millennials) increasingly look to real-time platforms to make decisions. People want to assess an organization’s promise, reliability, trustworthiness, and impact on their own – guided largely by perceived transparency. If your organization is actively trying to engage millennials, then it is doing something smart, but if it’s doing it without also empowering millennials where it counts (i.e. in the board room), then your engagement narrative risks credibility. Thanks in large part to the web, we live in a “show vs. tell” world – and if what you say doesn’t match what you do, people are likely to notice.
Despite a strange want to promulgate the concept that millennials never do and never will actively contribute to nonprofit organizations, data suggests that most millennials actually do contribute. Yes, millennials donors exist. Here are six sad truths that I have learned as a millennial donor. But the good things about adding other, more diverse members to your board are still true for millennials: Insight, connectivity to the right people, an “in” with a valuable group of up-and-comers, and fresh perspectives.
Generational change and progress are inevitable – and denying (or even delaying) the inevitable is a horrible reason to cripple the evolution of mission-driven organizations. The new first imperative of power should be not to retain it but, instead, to share it. That is the stuff of a true and worthy organizational legacy.