Nonprofit Happy Hours Are Not Enough

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As a long-term board development strategy, forward-thinking nonprofit organizations are looking for ways to court today’s “young professionals.” According to the online Urban Dictionary, a young professional is:

A recent college graduate whose main objectives in life include: career advancement, becoming financially secure, spending too much of their yearly income on expensive clothing and maintaining a busy social life.

Although this seems a bit cynical, many nonprofits have fallen into the trap of assuming that hosting Happy Hours at trendy bars where so-called young professionals could network with one another would be enough to win new friends for their agencies. They missed one key part of the definition: these individuals already have busy social lives. For them to add another commitment to their calendars, there needs to be a very good reason.

YPG members & BGC kids volunteer at Houston Food Bank

YPG members & BGC kids volunteer at Houston Food Bank

YPG member helps hang Christmas decorations on campus

YPG member helps hang Christmas decorations on campus

Nonprofits that have been successful in this area have built their recruiting efforts around three important criteria:

  1. Keep all group activities tied in some way to the nonprofit’s mission;

  2. Include opportunities to “network up” by providing access to existing board members and other important agency contacts; and

  3. Allow the group as much autonomy as possible.

One organization that has developed an extremely successful Young Professionals program is Boys and Girls Country of Houston, Inc. (BGC). BGC is a residential home for children from families in crisis, where they are raised in a loving, Christian setting to grow into independent, self-sustaining adults. BGC chose to structure their Young Professionals Group as a Giving Circle. In lieu of paying a membership fee, members make donations to the group’s fund. A small committee, empowered by BGC to lead the group, began this year with a full-day retreat. Addresses were given by the incoming Board Chair and a local philanthropist, and BGC staff members gave PowerPoint presentations on the organization’s culture of philanthropy and Fundraising 101. To tie in with its mission, staff members who live on campus spoke about what they do on a daily basis.

The YPG’s By-Laws have since been finalized and a fundraising goal has been set for the year. At next year’s annual meeting, the committee will vote on which budget item they would like to support with their 2014 gift, i.e. education, housing, etc. A calendar of events to be attended by a BGC Board Member or other high-level executive, as well as volunteer activities with BGC kids, is now in place. The committee has already made its first report to BGC’s Board of Directors, and plans to do so at future board meetings as well.

This is an excellent strategy for developing future board members. However, for nonprofits that are looking to fill spaces on their boards immediately, LinkedIn Board Connect can be an extremely effective resource. Business professionals on LinkedIn may express their desire to be on a nonprofit board in their profile under “Volunteer Experience & Causes.” By indicating that your nonprofit is looking for potential board members, you will be connected with individuals who are interested in your organization, or ones that have a similar mission.

To maintain a vibrant and active board, board development should be ongoing. A combination of the two strategies above could help meet both your organization’s short- and long-term needs.

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Richard Beeman