We started the first 826 Valencia Associate Board. Here’s what we learned.
By Talia Moyal, Jess Blackshaw, Faryl Ury, and Ali Vivinetto
After volunteering with 826 Valencia — helping students learn to write stories and poems, produce podcasts or draft admissions essays for college apps, and write news stories for the school papers — we were looking for a way to connect more deeply with the organization. Luckily, 826 Valencia was looking to inspire another generation of volunteers. We started recruiting prospective members and by the end of summer 2018, we had 22 inaugural members for 826 Valencia’s first-ever Associate Board!
826 Valencia is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting under-resourced students ages six to eighteen with their creative and expository writing skills. We’re now more than two years in, and together we’ve raised more than $40,000, hosted events including “Books, Beers, and Buccaneers” (which even included a treasure hunt!), and have met a crew of inspiring students and teachers. If you’re thinking about joining or starting a non-profit Associate Board, here are some things our group learned along the way.
First things first: why create an Associate Board?
The reality is, nonprofits often need to expand their donor base to include a new, younger generation. Many nonprofits only have one Board of Directors, who are traditionally tasked with a high fundraising commitment and have a rolodex of friends willing to commit high-dollar amounts. So an Associate Board (also called a Young Professionals or Junior Board) can be a great idea! It’s a way to engage a group of people whose focus is not on fundraising high-dollar amounts, but rather creating meaningful connections with a younger generation who can give time and ideally small but recurring donations. It also paves the way for more formal board service down the line.
Being on a Board is different than being a volunteer because, in addition to volunteering directly, we also work on strategic projects and are responsible for connecting more people to the organization, whether that’s by tabling at outdoor community events, organizing or promoting events, recruiting friends to volunteer, or representing the nonprofit inside our own companies.
Make sure the Associate Board has opportunities to connect to the mission of the organization. This will keep everyone inspired!
At 826 Valencia, our mission is to bring writing skills to students of all ages from under-resourced communities. To connect to the mission, all of our events incorporate elements of writing, creativity, and self-expression. (Like our “Pen to Pose” event, a virtual yoga class fundraiser with a literary twist!). And we kick off key meetings by sharing our favorite book. If your nonprofit is focused on park beautification, why not host a meeting at the local park? If it’s focused on the arts, why not start every meeting talking about a painting that most inspires you?
Set clear goals.
Connect more young professionals to the organization? Raise money? Recruit more volunteers? It’s important to be clear about what your goals are, as this will determine how you spend your time and energy as a Board. For example, if your job is to drive awareness, hosting a free event at the non-profit with a few compelling speakers might work. If you’re more focused on raising funds, you’ll probably want to charge for tickets and then add a raffle, with prizes donated from local businesses. And make sure that you have a direct and honest line of communication with a staff member who serves as the liaison between the non-profit and the Associate Board. Making sure you are all aligned about what the non-profit actually needs and expects is critical.
At the end of the day, this is a volunteer group. That said, it’s a volunteer group that an organization is relying on and that has made commitments. It sounds simple, but we can’t stress how valuable it is to recruit doers to your group, to ensure that tasks are being followed through on and that one person isn’t taking on too much at once. Look for people who take initiative and have the time to devote to a nonprofit. In addition to recruiting doers, it also helps to recruit for specific skill sets — that could mean people who are skilled at writing, marketing, event planning, team building, fundraising, and more.
Think about the skills you need for the Associate Board and how you will set up the executive team and committee structure.
Our executive team includes a President, Vice President, Secretary, and Membership Director, and we serve for two-year terms. Based on the goals of the organization, you will also want to think about the most important committees and recruit leads for those — examples include fundraising, sponsorships, and events. For us, it was important for us to get to know the communities 826 serves, so we have a community liaison who helps connect us with the neighborhoods where 826 operates. You will also want a designated staff liaison who works at the non-profit who is supportive of the Associate Board and helps keep you connected to the priorities of the organization.
In addition to helping the organization, figure out what your members are looking to get out of the experience.
Of course, the Associate Board exists to help the nonprofit with what it needs. But members may also have secondary reasons for joining — to learn more about how nonprofits operate, to make new friends, tap into a like-minded community, or understand what it’s like to serve on a Board of Directors. Conduct a survey of members, formally or informally, to see what skills people want to learn as they serve. Then bring in guest speakers, such as the finance or volunteer director, to your meetings. This allows for learning opportunities and deeper connections between the organization and the Board.
Be clear about the commitment upfront so members know what they’re signing up for.
Different Associate Boards prioritize different things: monetary donations, volunteer hours, attendance at a certain number of meetings each year. For our Board, we decided that we wanted to focus more on involvement, including volunteering, rather than donations. So we kept the individual yearly contribution fairly low( $100) although we’ve worked together to fundraise tens of thousands of dollars. We also encourage members to make monthly donations, emphasizing the importance of consistency and commitment over a particular amount.
Have a succession plan.
It might sound crazy, but from the moment new leaders start, they’re one day closer to finishing their term. After year one, make sure you have a sense of who might step into executive roles once the first two-year term is over. Start getting members involved so they understand how the executive team functions. It is important to start building your pipeline of new board members as early as possible. This can be as simple as having members replace themselves when they roll off or having a waiting list of people to call on each year.
Find a way to connect as people.
Yes, you’re doing important work for an organization that does good in the world. But you’ll want to find ways for members to connect as people. After all, who doesn’t want to have fun while volunteering? At 826, many of us were drawn to the organization because we love writing and reading. So prior to the pandemic, we would attend talks by interesting authors as part of the local City Arts & Lectures series and then grab drinks at a nearby bar after. We would also alternate where we host meetings — sometimes at the nonprofit itself and sometimes at one of our offices, so we get to see where other members work. During COVID times, a virtual yoga and writing workshop helped us stay connected!
At the end of the day, starting or joining a Board can be a wonderful experience, for you and the nonprofit. If you’re interested in learning more about getting involved with 826 Valencia or starting your own Board, we’re here to help! Just reach out to our staff liaison, Nicole C. Brown, at firstname.lastname@example.org.