Next generation ready to assume not-for-profit leadership

Many old NGOs are failing to recruit the next generation for two basic reasons


Download this column on the not-for-profit sector
Terms and Conditions of use

Contact Mike

VANCOUVER, B.C. Dec. 7, 2015/ Troy Media/ – It literally had to happen. The rejuvenation of Canada’s not-for-profit boards is underway.

As Boomers enter their mid-60s, and retirements begin to move them out of the nation’s offices, factories and small businesses, so do they begin their exit from civil society’s non-governmental organization (NGO) boards.

I’ve been an active voluntary board member all my life. The five NGO boards I sit on are recruiting new members from the 1980s birth-years cohort.

And just as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explains that gender balance is happening in the federal cabinet “because it’s 2015,” so must a new cohort of volunteers and leaders step up for board membership. The NGOs the Boomers founded (think Greenpeace, the David Suzuki Foundation and Friends of the Earth) will die if they do not recruit new supporters and donors.

One of my favourite Canadian NGOs has more than 13,000 donors but their average age is over 70. This information contains both good and bad news: yes there will be bequests, but no, the donors will not live forever. Eventually they will all have to be replaced with new donors from Generation X and the Millennials, if they are going to continue to exist.

Now ask yourself: why should Millennials shoulder the Boomer causes? Because they are there? No – they have to appeal to Millennial notions of what is relevant now.

Millennial recruitment to boards has first to begin with their engagement with the cause. Many old NGOs are failing in this quest for two basic reasons. One – their social media awareness is pathetic, and they still exhibit a reliance on old media that appeals to Boomer sensibilities. How many Millernnials in your life read print newspapers or snail mail donation solicitations, or even watch TV? And two – they don’t listen to Millennials’ ideas, or worse, make any effort to apply them. A great way to lose Millennial enthusiasm is tokenism; equally efficient is not listening well.

I was recently called to task by my Millennial nephew for not giving his McGill roommate the opportunity to finish his dinner table story. Actually, I thought he had finished – I couldn’t hear him. Whenever possible, I now make considerable effort to sit closer to Millennial tablemates so as to not miss out on important conversational cues. It’s hard to admit that you are losing yet another of your Boomer senses.

Given that your Boomer cause resonates with at least some Millennials, you may next be able to make the cause for small monthly tithes. Starting small can create a life-long habit of philanthropy, that expands as personal means expand. But if you take Millennial dollars, you should be aware of the expectations of reporting back. Above all, don’t take their continuance for granted. Explain carefully how the resources were deployed, and what resulted. And ideally, do so with a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of social media.

Asking, recruiting, or electing Millennials to not-for-profit board positions is the highest end of the engagement process. All NGO boards need to reflect society back to society, and for that reason, Millennial board members are becoming de rigeur. Their presence reflects the awareness by the NGO that societal change is occurring, and that they are stepping into positions of power. Their presence also reflects that they identify enough with the cause to volunteer time in its service. This is something that other Millennials notice, and may help recruit more supporters.

If all of the above works, and it can, volunteer governors may have the enjoyable task of sitting on not-for-profit boards that reflect both societal reality and future promise – today. There may also be a flow of wisdom across generations – both ways.

Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

Read more Mike Robinson

Follow Mike via RSS


The views, opinions and positions expressed by all Troy Media columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Troy Media.

Troy Media Marketplace © 2015 – All Rights Reserved
Trusted editorial content provider to media outlets across Canada
Terms and Conditions of use Get Help FAQ

Submit a Letter to the Editor

You must be logged in to post a comment Login