Nonprofits aim to link young professionals to their causes with board service

When the Lexington Public Library Foundation board considered creating a mobile application for checking out books and marketing the library, members didn’t take interest. But its young professional committee did — and put its own fundraising efforts behind the project.

“Our young professional committee looks for ways to be good advocates of the library,” said Executive Director Ann Hammond. “And they raise money to support programs that are not covered by our regular budget.”

The library’s young professional committee is one example among a number of such groups forming within Lexington nonprofits. While the trend has not been tracked statistically by the Kentucky Nonprofit Network, Executive Director Danielle Clore noted an increase in young professional activity with nonprofit boards.

“Nonprofits recognize the need to diversify their constituent base,” said Clore. “These kind of efforts aimed at young professionals allow organizations to increase the diversity of their volunteers, board members and donors.”

Giving young people a meaningful experience with a charity is exactly what the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) of the Bluegrass hoped to achieve when it started the Red Shoe Society, a young professionals’ group created to support the fundraising and volunteer needs of the RMHC, in 2010, said Executive Director Sarah Warner Lister. Lister said it makes sense for their nonprofit, particularly because of its past.

“We have a very loyal group of donors and volunteers who have been involved since 1984, and when I look back at the beginning, the people that got the house open were younger in their lives and careers,” Lister said.

RMHC of the Bluegrass has focused on utilizing the talent and enthusiasm of Red Shoe Society members to build awareness of the mission of the nonprofit to new audiences, she said.

But Lister admitted that starting the group has not been without its challenges; particularly, she noted that personal factors like changing careers, marriage and starting a family can impact a young professional’s ability to give time and money to an organization.

Fundraising consultant Lee Ellen Martin said those fluctuations are normal. The key, said Martin, is to define a purpose for a junior board and keep that goal constantly at the forefront of all planning.

“You want to make sure that the junior board fulfills two paths,” said Martin. “First, do the ideas of the junior board match what the organization is doing? And secondly, is it what young professionals want to be doing? What do they need to get out of the experience?”

With programs like United Way’s Get on Board and Leadership Lexington, there are many opportunities for a younger generation to learn about and prepare for board service. Limelight Promotions President Stephanie Spires, whose company has held “Young and Board” workshops, said both young citizens and experienced board members are recognizing their need to work together.

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