A year ago, AmeriCorps Alums and BoardSource began to discuss a potential partnership. I immediately thought it would be a great idea because it would shine a light on new service opportunities for a group of individuals committed to giving back to their communities. However, as BoardSource’s director of training, an AmeriCorps alum, and the vice chair of the National Advisory Council of AmeriCorps Alums, I recognized that I was perhaps a bit too close to both organizations to be objective. Since then, as I reflected further on my own history, I have come to the conclusion that no matter my relationship with BoardSource and AmeriCorps Alums, this really is a great partnership. Board service is a wonderful opportunity for alums to continue to volunteer in a way that has lasting impact and meaning.
I learned the definition of a “board of directors” when I was about 11 years old. My father, the executive director of the homeless shelter in my hometown, was explaining to my grandmother why my family couldn’t attend a Sunday lunch — he had a board meeting. She asked what a board did, and he explained in a way that made sense to her, and me.
Because I grew up around a small nonprofit that relied on volunteers to help deliver its direct services, I grew to respect and admire those individuals who volunteered and, when old enough, started volunteering myself. And almost every single time I completed a volunteer assignment — for a school, a Boys and Girls Club, a food bank, or on the deck of the USS Missouri, for example — I would wonder, what else can I do? How can I become more involved? How can I impact the future of this organization? I wanted more!
So I joined AmeriCorps NCCC and helped get things done for America — both up front in operations and behind the scenes in back offices. And I wasn’t the only one. Not by a long shot. Today, there are nearly a million AmeriCorps alums. And that number is just a drop in the bucket for overall volunteering in the United States. According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, more than 63 million individuals volunteered in 2014 — a number that should be admired and celebrated. But, let’s break that number down a bit. In the same link, we learn that 35- to 44-year-olds are most likely to volunteer (29.8 percent) and 20- to 24-year-olds are least likely to volunteer (18.7 percent).
So you may be wondering where nonprofit board service fits in. Well, according to BoardSource’s Leading with Intent: A National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices 2015, less than 17 percent of all board members are under the age of 40. When you look at individuals under age 30, the percentage shrinks dramatically to 3 percent. Why is this? Anecdotally, we hear that many younger people don’t know how to join a board or what it means to serve. Nonprofits tell us they don’t know where to find potential younger board members and aren’t sure what skills and interests they can bring to the table. What this says to me is that we aren’t doing enough to find each other, and that we are not communicating the vast array of skills and experience that Gen X and Yers bring to the table. The new partnership between BoardSource and AmeriCorps Alums aims to fix this issue.
Becoming a nonprofit board member will allow Americorps alums to demonstrate their continued passion for making a difference through volunteerism. Granted, board service often does not provide the immediate gratification that direct service delivery does, but give it time. As part of a committed team that shares a common passion, you will focus on the nonprofit’s long-term impact. You’ll use your unique skills, talents, and experience to provide oversight, define or refine the organization’s mission, and create a strategic vision and plan that will allow the organization to move forward in an effective yet responsible manner. You’ll be a decision maker and get to put your fingerprint on the legacy of a mission that you care deeply about. And, you’ll have the opportunity to grow your professional skills — in soft ways, such as deliberation and communication, as well as in the hard skills of financial intelligence and fiduciary oversight — and expand your professional network.
Here at BoardSource, our mission is to create better boards and inspire board service; AmeriCorps Alums’ mission is to empower and equip alumni of AmeriCorps to be the solutions to community challenges. The nonprofit sector is looking to AmeriCorps alums — those who have already shown that we care about our communities by serving a year or more — to step up once again. And this time around, as board leaders, we’ll have the opportunity to impact our communities for generations to come.