A Seat at the Table

At a time when established nonprofits bemoan the lack of engagement of young people with their causes, the under-30 set represents only 2 percent of those who serve on boards, according to the Nonprofit Governance Index 2007 conducted by BoardSource, a nonprofit that provides resources related to building effective nonprofit boards. While no comparative data exists regarding the demographic makeup of Jewish nonprofit boards, those in the field say that the number of millennials and Gen-Xers serving on boards is minimal, at best.

Tamar Snyder writing in The New York Jewish Week:

Twenty- and 30-something Jews have launched websites and magazines that have challenged the Jewish establishment, harnessed the power of social networking in their social justice work and raised the community’s eco-consciousness. But when it comes to getting a seat at the table – the boardroom table, that is – the gulf between generations has never been more gaping.

At a time when studies have suggested that one of the Jewish community’s most pressing problems is a lack of young leaders, Jews in their 20s and 30s are woefully under-represented on nonprofit boards. Now, though, however late in the game, a movement to increase their presence on boards of directors is taking shape.

A flagship program of Pursue (formerly known as the AJWS-AVODAH partnership), the two-day Organizational Leadership for Social Change: A Board Service Training is premised on the belief that the key to engaging young Jews in organized Jewish communal life is to equip them with the skills and confidence needed for them to join the boards of established Jewish organizations.

For the nominal cost of $36 (and the better part of two Sundays), the board service training “combines tachlis, the hard skills of what it means to be part of a board of directors, with that other piece: figuring out what type of board you are interested in serving on,” says Merrill Zack, associate director of education and community engagement at the American Jewish World Service.

The program – the first of its kind within the Jewish nonprofit world – is a response to what Zack calls the “fraud complex,” which many young Jews experience. “They tell me, ‘I can’t get on a board because I don’t have money or a really long resumé yet,” she says.

While sizable donations may be a prerequisite for serving on the board of a hospital or large university, for a lot of grass-roots organizations, that’s simply not the case, says Marie Zieger, a consultant affiliated with the Support Center for Nonprofit Management who has facilitated Pursue’s board service training since its inception in 2008.

“The level of accomplishment among young people should be tapped into, not ignored,” says Bram Weber, chair of the Council of Young Jewish Presidents, an umbrella group of young Jewish leaders.

Excerpted, with permission, from Young Leaders Pushing For Seat At Table. Be sure to read Tamar’s complete article in The Jewish Week.