Boards Covet Tech Savvy

Board diversity, of all things, might be the catalyst for an unexpected parity between nonprofit and corporate boards. Research shows both venues need – and slowly seek – new perspective in the form of millennials.

NPR recently reported that millennials comprise the largest workforce ever in the US. In fact, according to an article in Nonprofit Quarterly, millennials will comprise almost half of our workforce by 2020. Yet they are far from proportionally represented in board seats.

According to a recent feature in Quartz, some consider this absence a “missed opportunity for companies,” as the millennial perspective can enhance their company brands and business models. Beyond the reminder that age is an essential category in diversity criteria, the piece is striking because of its explanation of why – or, rather, what about “youth” finally earned a seat at the board table.

In essence, millennials can bridge organizations’ two great divides: technology literacy and changing markets. As Quartz explains, most boards select new members based on their experience, which is often associated with age. Statistically, the average board member of a major company is over 60 years old, yet the technology literacy gap suggests that certain business experience is not necessarily gained by time.

Quartz cited a recent study out of Georgia, indicating “nearly 96% of American millennials are digital natives.” Furthermore, young people in other countries are three times more likely than their elders to be online, which works as an advantage in cultivating relationships through social media.

To that point, boards must integrate millennial thinking and appeal throughout their organizations, thus millennials are in demand among nonprofits – at both the board and staff levels — too. According to Nonprofit Quarterly, there are certain key qualifications nonprofits will seek in employees by the year 2020. Among them are data-savvy and “the people skills needed to create cross-sector partnerships” with stakeholders in a fluid marketplace.

Similarly, today’s donors and other stakeholders expect to cultivate a more direct relationship with nonprofit boards.  A lack of age diversity on a board can “create a disconnect” between board members and changing customer demographics, as the percentage of millennials in the marketplace grows. To keep pace, it’s ever more critical for board members to reflect the diversity of their constituents.

Quartz notes the benefits of bringing young people into board service are likely to expand over time, as the experience enhances their leadership skills and promotes their civic engagement through charitable donations and volunteerism. At present, though, boards continue to struggle in achieving diversity. No doubt it will continue to take time and strategic board development to change the culture of board nominations. Organizations must be ever more intentional about identifying, recruiting, and orienting all board members to serve effectively while bringing new perspective to the table.

Especially noteworthy through all of this is the growing importance of technology skills – on corporate and nonprofit boards, as well as within the nonprofit organization. Ready or not, boards seem to be bracing for a shift in how information is conveyed and even constructed. Millennials are likely to bring the needed skill set – and mind set — to guide shifts in the way boards and organizations function.

Sonia J. Stamm

Sonia J. Stamm is Governance Consultant at BoardEffect. Since almost our inception, she has shared a best practice perspective on governance with our team and clients, partnering to guide boards toward optimal implementation of our software. As founder and principal of a nonprofit leadership consulting firm, Sonia supports the evolution of mission-based organizations through her work in board development, leadership transition and succession, and organizational effectiveness. A seasoned facilitator, trainer, and consultant, she enjoys guiding boards and organizations through critical junctures in their development.