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What young volunteers can bring to the board governance table

Many nonprofits and charities experience challenges in recruiting young volunteers. What kind of language appeals to youth? What channels can you reach them on? And what type of opportunities are they looking for?

Luckily, at Volunteer Alberta, we’ve created a unique volunteer matching program that connects youth with nonprofit boards across the province: Youth @ the Table, taking the guess-work out of recruiting young volunteers for board governance.

In this guest blog, Janica and Paul, a mentor and youth board member duo from Youth @ the Table, tell us how trying something new and joining the program led to an impactful relationship between them, and uncovered lasting learnings.

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Janica:  I’m a person who loves the community. I’ve worked in the not-for-profit sector for most of my career. I am the Executive Director of Humanity In Practice (h!p), and I am a Youth @the Table mentor.

Paul: I’m currently a board member of Humanity in Practice and am part of Youth @ The Table. I am also a second-year undergraduate neuroscience student at the University of Calgary.

What made you want to participate in Youth @ the Table?

Janica: We were excited to engage youth at a board level. I thought this was an excellent opportunity to connect with Volunteer Alberta and other nonprofits across Alberta. We hoped to understand the challenges and experience the benefits that youth can bring to an organization.

Paul: I have experience in volunteering, but was always curious about the function and decision-making structure of the organizations that I volunteered for. The need for youth involvement became apparent when I came across a statement from Youth @ The Table saying that youth representation is lacking in nonprofit governance. I became motivated to participate in Youth @ The Table to learn more about nonprofit governance, but also increase youth engagement at this level.

Did Youth @ the Table allow you to connect and learn more about board governance easier?

Janica: YES! The process was simple. Volunteer Alberta handled all aspects of recruiting a board member, which we know can be time-consuming and sometimes frustrating. This opportunity provided both h!p and youth with training, networking, and a board member match. Paul was a welcomed addition to our board.

Paul: Without Youth @ The Table, I don’t think I would have reached out and become part of a nonprofit board. It’s daunting for youth to participate. We do not have much experience nor knowledge about nonprofit governance and boards. Janica has been such a great mentor and has made me feel more confident in myself as a board member.

What are your key takeaways from this experience?

Janica: Youth are busy with school, work, and extracurricular activities, and thus, a successful role for them must contain flexibility. The youth want to be engaged and heard. Paul brought to our table fresh ideas and insights. By listening to his ideas, we tailored our program to be more youth-friendly!

Paul: Collaborating and presenting my perspective is not as scary as it seems. I really feel that my voice is valued on my board. With that said, I also learned that not all boards are the same. Finally, I learned that being a board member takes time, which some youth don’t have much of. Despite the challenges, the relationship you build with a board mentor and board can enhance your experience. Janica and h!p listen to my perspectives and points of view. I am genuinely thankful for all they have done to accommodate me.

Based on your experiences, what advice would you give to your peers?

Janica: I would tell boards: “Bring them on!” Create an environment where youth can be engaged with your organization at a higher level.

Paul: Don’t be scared. Both boards and youth should be willing to connect with each other without any barriers. We shouldn’t be afraid to get involved.

Any last thoughts?

Janica: Through Youth @ the Table, Volunteer Alberta created an opportunity to connect youth to a board-level experience that gives them insight into the nonprofit sector. I hope that experiences like Y@TT encourage youth to continue supporting and participating in the nonprofit sector.

Also, our board has met the other participating boards and given us an opportunity to network. We learned about other initiatives across our province. The possibilities of collaborations and shared learnings have been an unexpected outcome, one that has both strengthened our awareness of programs and services available and has introduced us to like-minded cheerleaders.

Looking for more resources about engaging youth on your boards? We’ve got you covered. Coming in the spring of 2020, Volunteer Alberta is releasing a Youth @ the Table Good Practice Guide that identifies what the 23 participating organizations did well to engage youth during the program. We are excited to share what we learned with you.

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