Navigation Lessons from the Next Generation

August 19, 2010

Linda Crompton, President and CEO, BoardSource

One of the “hot topics” in nonprofit governance conversations these days is the subject of young people in the sector. In fact, the discussions have been going on for quite some time now; for the past couple of years, conferences have featured “Next Gen” sessions and streams comprising panels discussing the importance of young people in the nonprofit world of the future. It seems to me, however, that much of the discussion about what this generation brings to the table has focused on the predictable: “social media,” “monetizing Twitter,” “fundraising through networking.” While it is obvious that those born into a technologically connected world will be much more likely to see the opportunities that technology represents, and will indeed eventually solve the puzzle of transforming online visits into sales, I think to concentrate the discussion on those topics alone is to miss a vitally important benefit that younger workers bring to the workforce or the boardroom: They are adept at navigating a rapidly changing world.

Let me explain:

All of us in the sector are working hard to understand the implications of the sweeping societal changes that are taking place following the economic recession of the past two years. Boards, in particular, are struggling to make sense of all this and to devise new solutions and strategies for their organizations. It goes without saying that all potential solutions must be created within a financial sustainability framework, and that experience with economic turndowns and cycles is critically important for those holding board seats. But what is often overlooked is that these challenges are part of a wider context of change – in philanthropy in general, fundraising, and even in the very structure and incorporation of nonprofit entities themselves.

While older board members often do have the wider financial experience, the next generation of employees came of age into a world where these challenges already existed. Innovation is automatic to them. By incorporating technology and networking into every solution they put their minds to, they automatically change the process. And because that change is at lightning speed, for young people there is no “business as usual,” which is exactly the message we have all received from the recession. The next generation of leaders can make the crucial difference in how effectively your board navigates a path forward while the ground continually shifts beneath it, because this generation has never known any other way to go.


6 Responses to “Navigation Lessons from the Next Generation”

  1. Eric Ombega Says:

    Thanks a lot Linda for the well thought out article. There is value in having young professionals to serve in Boards. They are energetic and this makes the older Board members to also try and match up. Asssigments are done in good time because the young ones are not likely to rest until it’s completed. This also brings ‘energy’ to the Board and it’s a great mentorship opportunity.

  2. This is a great article. In addition to innovation and change-management skills, our younger generation also brings a passion for service that can inspire and engage others in the community. They are used to having a voice and using it to make a difference. However, on-going development and training is important to mature and develop their governance actions.

  3. Pam Becker Says:

    I am seeing this within our organization, and it is great! What worries me is how to keep passing on the basic principles of nonprofit governance to undergird all this quick new decision-making. Orientations don’t seem to have the same weight they once did, and governance is easy for some to ignore in the haste of change. Any suggestions?

  4. Thank you, Linda, for recognizing one of the many strengths our younger generations are bringing to not-for-profit leadership! In my opinion, we boomers have engaged in far to much hand-wringing about “who will replace us?” while investing far too little in listening to those who bring new skills and perspectives to our sector. As long as we offer viable education and professional development opportunities to our future leaders, we’re going to be in greater — dare I say, better — hands than we can imagine!

  5. We at the Center for Nonprofit Management in Los Angeles absolutely agree and, in fact, welcome their leadership during this economic reset. Our experience with training and preparing hundreds of emerging leaders gives us reason to celebrate here in Southern California. They bring a keen sense of commitment to their mission, as we older folks did, as well as a deep appreciation for running an effective, impactful organization using technology, not just for successful fundraising, but for access to state of the art management tools.

  6. Marc Baizman Says:


    Your comments are right on. One of the things that this younger generation does naturally is reach out to other people across organizational and sector boundaries. Technology is simply facilitating and accelerating the tendency to connect with like-minded people. Here in Boston we’re trying to connect Young Nonprofit Professionals with each other, and also with other communities they wouldn’t normally socialize with (younger Foundation staff, for example).

    Marc Baizman
    Technology Chair

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