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Minnesota nonprofits reflect on effective YPG governance

Now, more than ever, nonprofits are struggling to engage young adults — to attract and groom future leaders, innovators, donors, advocates and volunteers for their organizations.

Now, more than ever, nonprofits are struggling to engage young adults — to attract and groom future leaders, innovators, donors, advocates and volunteers for their organizations. In an attempt to reach the millennial generation, many nonprofits have established young professionals groups in recent years.

When forming a YPG, organizations face a slew of questions regarding governance:

– What is the most manageable, productive size of a successful board or steering committee?

– Should the board oversee additional leadership subcommittees, or does additional bureaucracy slow down progress? 

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– How often do steering committees need to meet in order to maximize performance and minimize fatigue?

– What methods increase YPG members’ involvement with and commitment to the parent organization?

Young nonprofit professionals gathered for the YPG roundtable in early March, 2011
Young nonprofit professionals gathered for the YPG roundtable in early March, 2011

Last Wednesday, nearly 40 professionals from 25 Metro-area nonprofits gathered at the offices of Big Brothers Big Sisters in St. Paul to tackle these tough questions and exchange perspectives on effective YPG leadership structures.

Organized by Jenny Johnson, fund development manager at Aeon and leader of Aeon Connect, and Mike Marcotte, former director of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Young Professionals Group, the roundtable proceeded the YPG conversation the two led in early March, 2011.

Nonprofits and professional networking groups represented at the May 4 roundtable included:

AccountAbility Minnesota
ALS Association, Minn.–N.D.-S.D. Chapter
Alzheimer’s Association, Minn.–N.D. Chapter
American Swedish Institute
Bolder Options
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities
CommonBond Communities
Friends of the Orphans
Greater Twin Cities United Way
Hennepin Theatre Trust
Jeremiah Program
Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers
Minnesota Children’s Museum
Minnesota Department of Corrections
Minnesota Rising
Open Arms of Minnesota
People Serving People
Pillsbury United Communities
Project for Pride in Living
Students Today Leaders Forever
Torch Community
Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity
Young Nonprofit Professionals Network – Twin Cities

When recruiting volunteers for a YPG advisory team or steering committee, organizations should be selective, advised roundtable attendee Michael Wilcox, a volunteer with Open Arms of Minnesota and their YPG, Nosh. “In my experience, the most helpful volunteers have been people who were actively involved with the overarching organization prior to joining the young professionals committee.”

Organizations may have a tendency to welcome as many YPG leaders as possible, but including too many volunteers can slow down decision-making and decrease efficacy. Volunteers should be wholly dedicated to serving on a committee and enthusiastic about the organization’s mission.

The ideal size of a YPG board is debatable, but should be large enough that no member is overburdened and small enough that each member has a clearly defined role in a certain aspect of governance, such as social media, community relations, member services, event planning or fundraising.

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Megan McGough, chair of Aeon Connect, said her organization has found the “sweet spot” for board size to be 10 to 14 people. 

Torch Community has a 12-person board that meets once a month for two hours, said Katie Imholte, chair of career and leadership for the group.

Billy Whalen, a board member of Hennepin Theatre Trust’s The Scene, said their YPG recently scaled back their leadership design, cutting 16 volunteer committees down to four. “It seems rational and organized to parcel out duties to committees and subcommittees, but having too many teams makes leadership unwieldy.”   

Young Nonprofit Professionals Network – Twin Cities also restructured leadership earlier this year, rolling out a new strategic plan in which the executive board oversees three committees: Programming, Membership and Communications, and Governance. The accountability structure has served the organization well in implementing their programs and services.

Roundtable attendees pointed out that time commitment involved in serving on a YPG board can intimidate and deter volunteers from participation; committees offer volunteers the opportunity to take on a leadership role without making such a large time commitment. Similarly, volunteers may be more willing to partner up as committee co-chairs, than to chair alone.

To make leadership meetings more engaging — and increase attendance numbers — roundtable participants proposed occasionally bringing in speakers to educate members on topics such as leadership development, volunteering, social media, networking. Young Professionals of Minneapolis, for example, features quarterly business speakers.

As the YPG roundtable wound down, the discussion came full circle: various nonprofits confessed they’ve found it difficult to engage YPG members with their organization as a whole (though such engagement was the motivation behind creating the YPGs in the first place).

There wasn’t much time to delve into the issue, but a couple participants recommended connecting the YPG board with the nonprofit’s board; the older board can provide mentorship to YPG board members, as well as help find new ways to engage young adults — pledging matching donations for YPG fundraisers, for example.

Clearly, there was much more to talk about than we had time for, but perhaps the discussion will continue at a future YPG roundtable.

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Wilcox suggested the next roundtable center on event planning and promotion. I think special events and fundraising would be very interesting topics to discuss at a future gathering of nonprofit YPG leaders.

Suggest topics for future YPG roundtables in the comment section below.