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A Guide to Recruiting Young Directors

23 June 2014 at 11:22 am
Staff Reporter
Younger directors, if properly recruited, mentored and supported, can provide diversity and innovation, says David White, in this piece first published in the latest edition of the SVA Consulting Quarterly.

Staff Reporter | 23 June 2014 at 11:22 am


A Guide to Recruiting Young Directors
23 June 2014 at 11:22 am


David White

Younger directors, if properly recruited, mentored and supported, can provide diversity and innovation, says David White, in this piece first published in the latest edition of the SVA Consulting Quarterly.

There is a high demand for quality directors in non-profit organisations. Australia has 59,000 non-profits of significant scale. Averaging eight directors per non-profit, the sector needs around 472,000 directors. Individually, these directors make major decisions about the direction and viability of non-profits, and are tasked with significant strategic decisions to deal with major societal challenges.

However, many non-profits struggle to find and retain quality directors. Can qualified younger people make up the shortfall?

Five essential requirements for a non-profit organisation director are:

  • Governance knowledge
  • Relevant background
  • Availability
  • Networks
  • Buy-in

Clearly younger people can fulfil these five requirements and many bring additional benefits through unique skills and perspectives.

1. Governance Knowledge

Younger people might not have as much knowledge on governance matters as someone more experienced, however, they are adaptive to change and have the potential to come up to speed quickly. They may also have a greater capacity and willingness to be trained and mentored.

Paul Robertson, Chair of Social Ventures Australia (SVA), suggests that younger people may be more receptive to instruction than those who are more experienced: “Sometimes it’s harder to mentor the more mature director whereas the younger person coming on actually wants, and sometimes demands, mentoring.”

2. Relevant Background

Directors should fulfil the organisation’s needs regardless of age. Younger people may have skills and experiences which are particularly relevant to an organisation – especially in areas which are in flux, like technological or communication innovations, analysis of markets, fundraising approaches and cultural change.

3. Availability

The responsibilities of a director may take up to 20 days per year and potentially double that for the role of chair. Younger people generally have fewer commitments and family responsibilities and thus are more able to devote their time.

4. Networks

Younger people have access to different networks, and potentially extensive ones. The networks of younger people may reflect common interests better than traditional corporate networks, and similarly may have increased capacity to take on work.

5. Buy-in

Commitment to a cause is independent of age and more about individual interests, values, allegiances and life experience.

Additional benefits that younger people offer:


Just like any other group who bring different viewpoints, younger people can help boards perform better. Diversity encourages different perspectives which help boards overcome cultural blind spots. It encourages creative problem solving, healthy conflict and different insights about populations and cultures.

Different skills

Some non-profit organisations that target young people have constitutional mandates for younger people to sit on their boards to ensure they utilise their experience and expertise in information technology, online communication, social media and engagement of young people.

Philanthropy Australia has placed over 20 emerging leaders on boards since the launch of its New Generation of Giving program.

Louise Walsh, Philanthropy Australia’s CEO, has found that young board members bring fresh attitudes to fundraising and sustainability: “If one of our ‘new gen-ers’ believes in the organisation’s mission, governance and effectiveness, they are passionate about bringing their peers, friends and colleagues into the fold. They also bring fresh perspectives about generating income streams beyond fundraising, for example cross-subsidisation opportunities.”


There is potential for young people to have long-term relationships with the organisation.

Despite the wisdom and experience of older directors, the currency of their business knowledge can fade and their tenure is likely to be shorter. In contrast, younger people potentially have decades of future governance ahead. Hence, investment in training and mentoring younger people can pay big dividends.

Nonetheless, it is important to remember that any board candidate must be vetted for appropriateness. Non-profit boards should not be viewed simply as a training ground for “more important” corporate board roles. Any director must fulfil the five requirements.

When considering recruiting a young director, consider the following:

1. Fit with the vision of the organisation

Good boards rarely happen by accident. A well-constructed board needs more than just people with wide experiences. An organisation needs clarity on why anyone is being appointed to the board. Each director must meet the five requirements and bring the skills, experience and networks needed for the specific organisation.

2. Capacity to do the job

A board candidate must demonstrate sufficient intellectual capacity and emotional intelligence and show the potential to develop into an effective director. They must also display a willingness to undertake any necessary training to be able to fulfil any board duties.

3. Training and mentoring

The board culture should allow and encourage difference and have tolerance for people who are learning on the job. Practically, that means the organisation must have a supportive chair and current directors who have the knowledge, patience and willingness to support and mentor less experienced members.  Developing skills to allow a long period of useful service to the organisation and sector should be encouraged.

About the Author: David White until recently was an associate consultant for SVA Consulting providing governance consulting services to non-profit boards. In retirement, White continues to serve on a number of Not for Profit boards including Varuna, The National Writers’ House.

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