Login / Logout Link
y@ttblogbanner

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.

Youth @ the Table Team

Why engaging youth in board governance is important according to the Youth @ the Table team

Launched this year, Youth @ the Table is Volunteer Alberta’s new youth engagement initiative. The program aims to create governance opportunities for young people ages 18 to 30 who are interested in the nonprofit sector.

Participants will be paired with a nonprofit board in their community and spend six months learning directly from a mentor on the nonprofit’s leadership team. Over the course of the program, they will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to influence operations and strategic directions. By sitting at the decision-making table, youth will lead the nonprofit sector into the future and create space for young people to influence social issues in Alberta.

Hear from the Youth @ the Table team about why they believe engaging youth in Alberta’s nonprofit sector is important:

What is your role at Volunteer Alberta?

Eunice: I am the Youth @ the Table Coordinator! I help figure out the logistics of our overall game plan.

Lauren: My role is the Youth @ the Table Project Manager. I lead a great team who has been working hard to develop and implement the Youth @ the Table project!

Navneet: I’m the Senior Coordinator, Marketing & Communications! I curate our social media, draft external communications, and lead strategic directions on branding.

Have you ever had any governance experience? What was it like?

Eunice: Yes! I participated in the Non-profit Board Internship, a program run by Community Service-Learning at the University of Alberta. I was paired with interVivos, a nonprofit that provides forums for emerging leaders in Edmonton. I sat on a board for 8 months as an intern it really elevated my confidence and my ability to connect with professionals.

As a young person trying to navigate what comes next in a fast-paced world, developing communication, leadership, critical thinking and decision-making skills are crucial. I am now a more well-rounded community member. I know what goes on at the decision-making level of groups who shape our community to be better and more livable and I can ask meaningful questions, and really understand the avenues where real change can happen.

Lauren: I am relatively new to governance! During my first year at the University of Alberta, I served a term on the Alberta Mentorship Program (AMP)’s Executive Committee. It gave me the opportunity to volunteer with various organizations like the Mustard Seed and local initiatives like The Youth Restorative Justice Project.

Before and after AMP, I’ve asked myself “how do I get more involved in nonprofit organizations?”. I didn’t know how or where to seek out governance opportunities. Looking back, I think to have a program like Youth @ the Table would have really benefited me because Youth @ the Table bridges that gap between nonprofits who are looking to engage youth and youth who are looking to take action and get involved.

Navneet: During my time as a student at the University of Alberta, I was involved in a wide range of board and governance roles. I served as a Team Leader at the Campus Food Bank for a couple years then as a Member at Large on The Gateway Student Journalism Society’s board. I loved these roles because I got to go beyond the day to day operations and be part of major decisions such as which fundraisers to approve and how to transition the newspaper into a magazine.

Currently, I sit on the Winspear’s Young Leadership Council and get to do similar work. I provide input on how to make guest experiences more youth-friendly and engage young people in musical endeavours. This work is incredibly rewarding because I get to express my ideas and watch them get implemented to improve an organization that I care deeply about.

Why is getting youth (18-30 years old) involved in governance so important?

Eunice: This age group makes up the biggest chunk of Canada, I think finding opportunities for people in this age bracket to exercise their passions and channel their energy would only benefit society as a whole. It’s about time that folks who fall in this age bracket are recognized as important knowledge keepers, not just receivers.

Lauren: We are experiencing so much change in our world right now, I think there has never been a more important time for young people to get involved in decision-making, not only in the nonprofit sector but in every sector. I think as we continue to make space for them in these conversations, we will begin to recognize how much knowledge they have to contribute and how passionate they are about social issues.

Navneet: Young people are our future leaders. This fact, though obvious, is all too often overlooked in many sectors. By failing to include this age group at decision-making tables, we fail to prepare for the future and lose opportunities for growth in our sector. For young people to gain the skills necessary to tackle the world’s most complex social issues, we must break down the barriers that prevent them from being heard. Young people bring diverse perspectives and innovative ideas to the table — it’s important that they are taken seriously!

Do you have any last thoughts about engaging youth in the nonprofit sector?

Navneet: Governance can often be an intimidating concept that seems reserved for those who are interested in politics or traditional leadership roles. With Youth @ the Table, we want to break down this perception of governance and push decision-making spaces to be more open and inclusive. For progress to happen in our sector, we have to make sure young people have access to the board rooms in which decisions are made.

Are you between the ages of 18-30 and interested in making a difference in your community? Apply for Volunteer Alberta’s Youth @ the Table program by June 15th, 2019! Learn more.

Not-for-profit Web Consulting & Digital Marketing by Adster Creative