Blog contribution by Yodit Mesfin Johnson, NEW (Nonprofit Enterprise at Work) and guest blogger Michele Lewis-Watts, Michigan Women’s Foundation

The  “Power pipeline” (Crain’s Detroit Business 12/12/20) article got us and some other young professionals we know thinking about our role in the rapidly changing SE Michigan region, specifically in the nonprofit sector.

We all know how this starts; nonprofit board service has typically been a rite of passage. Usually, the “mature”, knowledgeable and typically, deep pocketed individuals in our community were invited to serve on the boards of charitable organizations. It was civic duty at it’s finest for Baby Boomers and they served their respective communities well –most of the time.

The Who

When we look at the leadership of most nonprofit boards now, it’s safe to summarize the composition as well, older folk. In some instances it’s a very elite group of well, older folk and in other cases it’s a group of just, well, older folk. Catch the drift?

While we Gen X, Y and Millennials may not be able to stroke a big check, we can show you a thing or two about fundraising on Facebook! As the Crain’s article stated, we want to be asked to be involved.

Boomers might say we’re selfish, self centered and disinterested in anything other than ourselves.  And while admittedly there is some truth to this, we’d suggest that another more practical reason that we’ve been disengaged thus far (aside from being broke and not being asked to be on boards) is that 25-40 year olds have a lot going on personally and professionally. The younger end of this spectrum is often finishing school, beginning careers, paying off student loans, building credit and credibility, while the older end of this demographic is busy changing diapers, caring for loved ones or climbing the proverbial professional ladder. We may be involved in church or community groups or clubs but rarely are we involved in—or for that matter invited to be a part of the kind of transformational conversations that move a city and a region forward.

The How


Two years ago when we at NEW were asked by a funder to attract younger, more diverse talent to nonprofit boards, we knew we were going to have to meet that young talent where they were.  That’s the reason we used the premise of “speed-networking” as a platform for learning about service opportunities in SE Michigan. Spring/Fall Into Service was our answer to their request. These seasonal events were designed to appeal, in part, to a younger demographic. It seems to have worked as since 2009, we’ve matched more than 60 attendees to nonprofit boards.


At the  Michigan Women’s Foundation, we recognize that it cannot be business as usual and that texting, Skyping, telecommuting, social media, cloud-based systems and the like must be fully integrated into work plans and work styles; that time-intensive “bored” Board meetings are not the only way to make decisions and get work done, that only looking at the richest donors is not the only way to raise money; that having the usual suspects around the table only gets you the usual answers.

In the article, Terry Barclay of Inforum indicated that these generations “don’t write the checks,”—but  we do write checks.  We just write checks of a different size. It is a mistake to ignore that fact and wait for us to be able to write bigger checks before we are invited to sit at board tables or given more responsibility. We give of our treasures, but are ready to give of our time and talents in many different ways.

The Network

Generation X and Generation Y have different value systems. We want to lead and work differently. We seek better balance among our professional, social and home lives and know that the balance is not only possible, but doable. Older generations see this difference as a lack of commitment to work or that we don’t want to pay our dues instead of recognizing how this difference could benefit the organization and the employees of the organization.  As a result more young people are leaning toward entrepreneurship. Why should I work for you when you won’t ask for my ideas or don’t use them when they are suggested.

The aforementioned Crain’s article discusses some of our colleagues who are doing awesome work in the community (shout out to Vince, Austin, Claire, and Josh) and deserved to be recognized. Now we just need more young folks to step up and be called up. We have to make sure that we don’t inadvertently create a new “usual suspects list”; only younger.

And there’s more, recently I (Yodit) attended an event at the Downtown Detroit Synagogue. Detroit’s only remaining synagogue, this 90 year old institution is being revitalized by an almost exclusively under 40 board of directors. Ever mindful to seek guidance from older leaders (Jewish and not) , these young people are embracing cross cultural, inter faith and inter generational collaborations and epitomize what a group of passionate, engaged, and empowered people can do.

Another great project is  the  Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, we’ve partnered with them for this year’s Spring Into Service event because we want to model what we’re asking of our community; inclusion of young talent. We also believe in their mission; to promote an efficient, viable, and inclusive nonprofit sector that supports the growth, learning, and development of young professionals.

Not only does the field need to encourage your children, employees, neighbors and colleagues to get involved in service activities with organizations like those we’ve mentioned, we must be intentional in recruiting, engaging, mentoring and cultivating young talent.  These jewels will inherit the region and deserve to be a part of shaping and transforming what it will look like the baton is passed. There is much to be done in our great state, let’s be sure we have all hands on deck for this journey.

Read the Crain’s article HERE


Michele Lewis-Watts is the Pr0gram Director at the Michigan Women’s Foundation which seeks to help women and girls achieve economic justice experience their communities as safe places value and have equal access to education and training address gender discrimination in all forms and to transform society.

Yodit Mesfin Johnson is the Director of Business Development at Nonprofit Enterprise at Work.  She was the youngest recipient of the renowned International Athena Award for her contribution to the women’s business community. She currently serves on the Michigan Israel Business Bridge and is an advisor on several local boards and committees.  Feel free to contact Yodit regarding any of the advice, tools or services mentioned in this post by email at or via phone at 734-998-0160 ext. 238

About NEW
NEW’s mission is to help nonprofits succeed by strengthening nonprofit management and offering solutions to issues facing our nonprofit community.

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