Why Serving on a Nonprofit Junior Board is Essential

By Jess Delaney

Columbia Business School students are discovering new avenues for social impact and professional development thanks to the latest trend in nonprofit governance: the junior board of directors. Sometimes called associate boards or leadership councils, these assemblies of young business leaders — typically under 35 years of age — bolster their organizations through mission-critical initiatives such as fundraising and public outreach. For those seeking to explore the nonprofit sector, the junior boardroom offers a training ground for learning business development skills and the mechanics of managing a nonprofit.

In April, the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise underscored the importance of board service for professional MBA development with a panel discussion where current students and recent alumni shared how junior boards have supported their careers while affording plenty of opportunities to give back to the community and network with like-minded peers. Whether working abroad for human rights or domestically on education, the panelists demonstrated that board members can expect to get much more out of the experience than the time and resources they are expected to give.

Over the past few years, junior boards have become a staple of nonprofit governance as more and more organizations are realizing the value of fresh ideas from young talent with business backgrounds and trying to make inroads with the next generation of donors, industry leaders, and governing board directors. Lindy Gould ’19 worked on building a junior board from scratch at the Clinton Foundation for her internship this past spring. “Commitments are generally around fundraising and energizing other young people,” Gould said.

Before joining the Clinton Foundation, Gould became an associate board member at Teach for America New York, a position she discovered after a five-year career at the organization. “As somebody who grew up doing the work in low-income public schools and then recruiting for Teach for America, I’m really enjoying this kind of relationship,” she said. “It feels like a way I can take my business skillset and apply it to things I’m really passionate about.”

Young professionals that have found their calling can often apply directly on an organization’s website, but many find opportunities by networking with personal and professional connections or using board matching services, such as CariClub and Echoing Green. CariClub, which launched in 2015, already lists more than 1,000 boards on its platform. In June, Columbia students and alumni had a unique opportunity to meet representatives from education and social justice organizations at the annual Nonprofit Board Showcase, co-organized by Community Resource Exchange (CRE), the Partnership for After School Education (PASE), and the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise, and hosted by Proskauer.

“Some are much more formal, and you really need to network,” said Natasha Gabbay ’20, who applied online to become a junior board member at the Global Fund for Women, a foundation dedicated to worldwide gender equality campaigns. “For others, if you are passionate about an organization and reach out to someone there, they might be looking to grow and it’s a little bit easier.”

Though junior boards have no fiduciary responsibilities, membership agreements typically include an explicit fundraising goal, colloquially known as a “give or get”, with the understanding that the member will either solicit donations or provide it themselves. According to data from CariClub, the average commitment is $1,000, but most members raise even more. Gould highlighted that large firms, such as banks and consultancies, often match employees’ charitable donations. “Some will match you up to $10,000 to give to charities,” said Gould.

At the Adams Street Foundation, Kyle Wetzold ’20 sits on a relatively new board that has chosen to forgo membership fees as it determines how to add the most value around the nonprofit’s mission of supporting the Urban Assembly School for Law & Justice, a public high school in downtown Brooklyn. “I’ve been able to use it as a platform within my company to get other people, and particularly senior people like our partners, to care about things that I care about,” Wetzold said. He even convinced senior management at his firm to let employees leave work on Friday mornings to tutor kids. It wasn’t easy, Wetzold admits, but they managed to help every single junior at the school apply to college.

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