Get On Board: Young Professionals, Nonprofits Gain In Joining Forces

Nicole Paquette, Communities Foundation of Texas

The Dallas Regional Chamber Young Professionals (DRC YP) recently hosted a panel discussion featuring nonprofit leaders as part of its “Get On Board” initiative. “Get On Board” educates young professionals on the nuances of sitting on a nonprofit board, and helps  place them on notable nonprofit boards in the Dallas Region. The initiative is part of the DRC’s YP program, which provides young professionals the opportunity to grow leadership skills, serve the Dallas community, network with peers, and engage with political, civic, and business leaders.

The discussion focused on what it takes to get on a board, what is expected from board members, and included many insights the panelists have learned through their own board service experiences.

Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT) Chief Relationship Officer Monica Egert Smith moderated the panel and gave an overview of the work of CFT. Smith described how her organization is a hub for philanthropy, and serves as a convener for individuals, families, companies, and nonprofits, to make giving easy, effective, and enjoyable. Smith also shared the value of measuring the impact and outcomes of the charitable dollars invested, in helping to set charities apart from competing-yet-deserving causes. She encouraged young professionals to use to explore and learn more about area nonprofits. Anyone can be a philanthropist through North Texas Giving Day, and the website is available year-round, Smith said.

Smith highlighted the importance of identifying personal values when deciding where individuals can focus their time, talent, and treasure to support nonprofits. By identifying what motivates them, individuals can have a “north star” to help guide their efforts in selecting nonprofits to serve and support. Smith facilitated an individual and group exercise to help attendees prioritize their values. Attendees discovered that though they are guided by different values, they can translate these preferences to board service.

The panel of nonprofit leaders included:

  • Dan Waldman, Chair of the Nominating and Governance Committee, Dallas Theater Center
    • The Dallas Theater Center’s mission is to engage, to entertain, and to inspire a diverse community by creating experiences that stimulate new ways of thinking and living.
  • Stacy Malcolmson, President and CEO, The Senior Source
    • The Senior Source’s mission is to enhance the overall quality of life and empower all older adults in greater Dallas to thrive.
  • Natalie Boyle, Founder and CEO, Mommies in Need
    • Mommies in Need’s mission is to provide childcare, community, and compassion to parents going through cancer treatment and other major health crises.
  • John DeFillipo, Executive Director, John Bunker Sands Wetland Center
    • The Wetland Center’s mission is to educate the public and to provide research opportunities in the areas of water reuse, quality, and supply; wildlife conservation; and wetland systems.

Key takeaways from the panel:

What makes an ideal board member?

  1. Be engaged! You’re busy, this is volunteer work, and it often includes meetings, homework, fundraising for the organization, and more. Alignment with something you are passionate about is key to staying engaged.
  2. Educate yourself about the differences between being a board member and a staff member. Board members often ensure staff is advancing the mission at a high level – but don’t get into the weeds on everything.

– Dan Waldman, Dallas Theater Center

Why are you interested in having younger board members join your board?

At the Senior Source, we’re focused on how we can serve both our most frail and most active seniors, and how we can treat people with dignity by giving them opportunities to interact with our community. Young professionals bring a fresh lens and younger perspective; they have grandparents and can think about how best to help and engage our seniors. They can also manage calendars better, and can bring tech-savvy ideas to help us better serve our seniors.

– Stacy Malcolmson, The Senior Source

How do the needs of board members of newer nonprofits differ from established nonprofits?

Mommies In Need started as a working board with no staff. Now, we currently have a small, interactive board where each board member contributes individual expertise. In 2020, we will be opening a child care drop-in center on the Parkland Hospital campus – a partnership that originated through one of our board members. We rely on our board members to share social capital focused toward achieving our mission.

– Natalie Boyle, Mommies In Need

Can you tell us more about the process of serving on a board?

At Dallas Theater Center, we nominate a class every year. We have 60 to 70 people on our board, which is often typical for an arts organization. The majority of what we do is related to fundraising, so we keep our eye on building a pipeline of people in the community that could join the board in the future. We are focusing on attracting more diversity, including age, as we rethink how we market our programs as more young people move to the city and to downtown.

– Dan Waldman, Dallas Theater Center

Waldman also encouraged young professionals to identify their passions and how those might apply to board service. He said that individuals who are interested in a board should contact some of its current board members to find out what they personally like about the organization. They should also ask questions to get an inside perspective about the process of joining, as well as the roles of the board.

Fundraising is often not in everyone’s comfort zone. Are there ways for young professionals to serve if they don’t have a lot to give, and don’t love to ask for money?

Of course! If you are passionate, you are telling your friends about the cause – it comes naturally. Once you invite others to attend events, it becomes easier to ask once people are engaged. If people see your passion, they will often share your passion.

Another thing that young people can bring to the table is corporate support. You work for companies that have philanthropic priorities and passions; make an introduction for the nonprofit to your CEO or to the head of community philanthropy.

There are also ample ways to support crowdsourced fundraising, especially through North Texas Giving Day. You and your peers can make FUNdraising pages to help support your favorite causes and encourage your friends and colleagues to give with you.

– Stacy Malcolmson, The Senior Source

Waldman encouraged young professionals joining boards with fundraising goals to have a conversation with the board regarding what support they can provide in helping to reach those goals. For example, the Dallas Theater Center would love more young professionals to get involved in its patron perks program that starts at $50/year. There are lots of different and creative ways to meet board fundraising requirements.

Even if you can only give a little, it’s vital to boards to have 100 percent board participation in giving, especially as funders often look for this on grant applications.

Any other tips?

Finding the “right” board is a two-way conversation. The person considering joining should ask a lot of clarifying questions.

– Natalie Boyle, Mommies In Need

When thinking about a board, you know why you are interested. Do you know why the organization is interested in you and what you bring to the table? Get that clarity on the front end to ensure your board experience is fulfilling.

– Dan Waldman of Dallas Theater Center

Jump in! Roll up your sleeves, get engaged, smile, and introduce yourself to your fellow board members. Just taking these steps will go a long way to kick off a great life experience in serving on your first board.

– John DeFillipo, John Bunker Sands Wetlands Center

Treat board positions as seriously as you would treat a job. Think about how it will benefit you both professionally and personally. What skills do you plan to gain? How will this help you grow? When interviewing for a board position, come prepared, just as you would for a job interview.

– Stacy Malcolmson, The Senior Source

Make sure you know if you are joining a working board or a governing board, and what the anticipated time commitments are.

– John DeFillipo, John Bunker Sands Wetlands Center

The panel emphasized that, as a board member, you serve as an advocate of the organization. Your goals are to raise awareness, be a fundraiser and a friend-raiser, review financials, share your social capital and relationships, set strategy, and assess the work of the CEO or executive director.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! As a new board member, you provide a lot of value because of your fresh perspective. Challenge things, push back a little, and don’t be afraid to jump in or raise your hand regardless of how long you’ve been involved.

For more information about the YP Get on Board Initiative and a full timeline of dates and deadlines, please visit the YP Get on Board webpage. Applications are due by midnight on June 21.

Nicole Paquette is the marketing manager for Communities Foundation of Texas.