Young Professionals, Get On Board

Tuesday, October 7, 2014
by Erin J. Law, Vice President and Counsel, Morgan Stanley
Imagine a boardroom table filled with accomplished executives there to discuss the future of your favorite nonprofit. Where do you see yourself? Perhaps you envision yourself sitting on the sidelines, because you are not yet a partner at a law firm or CEO of a Fortune 500 company. 
I would like to encourage you to imagine yourself sitting at the table with other young professionals who share your passion for a cause and are excited to utilize their fundraising and communications skills to raise awareness. Many nonprofits recognize the importance of attracting a younger audience early and have committed to engaging the next generation of volunteers and donors through board service. Young professionals with five years of experience or more are joining boards in record numbers--strengthening nonprofits by lending their skills and expertise, leveraging their relationships, and making philanthropic contributions.  In return, board service allows young professionals to actively participate in a personally meaningful cause, develop new leadership skills, and express their autonomy in a way they may not be able to yet at work.
Young professionals have much more to contribute to a board than we might give ourselves credit for. With the rising popularity of online fundraising platforms such as Kickstarter, which demonstrated its impact by surpassing $1 billion in pledges in March 2014, we are already familiar with charitable giving at a global scale. The Next Generation of American Giving report notes that 17 percent of people aged between 18 and 32 have given to crowdfunding campaigns, compared to only six percent of those between 49 and 67. 
Additionally, serving on a board is a natural extension of volunteering. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, men and women aged between 25 and 34 spend approximately 36 hours every year on volunteer activities.[1] In comparison, board members are expected to dedicate an average of 5 hours every month, or 60 hours annually. Board service is a great way to get more hands-on experience and take ownership of a cause while maintaining a more predictable extracurricular schedule than is often the case with traditional volunteer work. 
Still not ready to take the plunge? “Junior” boards -- sometimes called advisory boards -- are a great way to contribute to an organization that matters to you without having taking on fiduciary obligations to the organization. Junior board members can assume a leadership role as an advocate for the organization of their choosing, often by participating in direct volunteerism and helping to organize and promote fundraising events. Members of the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest’s (NYLPI) junior board, The Pro Bono Advisory Council (PBAC), play a vital role in supporting NYLPI by actively engaging their peers in the legal industry about the importance of pro bono and by serving as sponsors for events that promote public interest work. The PBAC organizes a fundraiser each year and many members work on pro bono legal matters directly with NYLPI. While PBAC members are expected to make an annual contribution to the organization, we have no legal obligations. We make a huge impact with a relatively small commitment.  Personally, serving on the PBAC provided me with necessary skills that I was able to utilize when I later joined the Board of Directors of the Ali Forney Center, another NYC-based nonprofit. 
Nonprofits understand that young professionals in New York City have the skills, resources and drive to affect social and political change. These organizations are eager to cultivate strong, young ambassadors in order to provide different perspectives, promote the organization, and offer feedback. It’s never too early or too late to get involved. Resources such as NYLPI’s annual “Get on Board! Nonprofit Board Service for Attorneys” and the United Way of New York City's BoardServeNYC initiative help young professionals acquire the knowledge they need to serve as effective board members and connect them with local nonprofits. So what are you waiting for? Now is your time to take a seat at the table. 
Erin J. Law is a Vice President and Counsel in the Legal and Compliance Division at Morgan Stanley, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of the Ali Forney Center and a longstanding member of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest's Pro Bono Advisory Council.
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