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The Next Generation of Nonprofit Leadership: The Force Awakens

The Next Generation of Nonprofit Leadership: The Force Awakens by Liz WootenWith the release of new episodes in the Star Wars saga there have been countless parodies, an overabundance of internet memes, and yes, even the excited fan or two (hundred million).

Maybe it’s because our popular culture has been fully saturated with Star Wars mania, but I can’t help but think of the similarities between the movie and our strategies for integrating future generations into the nonprofit sector, specifically at the board level.

Along those lines, here are a few board culture true-isms I’ve found in 20 years of nonprofit service—along with some questions you may want to consider as you build a board of generational diversity. (For our purposes here, “next gen” refers to GenX, Millennials, GenZ, and beyond.)

Everyone has their favorite characters.

Like many nonprofit agencies, the Star Wars saga has been in our lives for a significant amount of time—almost 40 years. As such, many folks (fans or not) have favorite characters in the movies. The same can be said of many nonprofit boards: We all know which board members we can count on and those who may need a bit more of the “force.”

How are you getting to know your board members as individuals? What are their motivations and interests, and how are you helping them put those gifts to use for your agency?

How are you incorporating those stellar board members (or former board members) into grooming incoming board members? Do you have a board mentoring program in place?

Change can be difficult. 

Two unknown actors were introduced as main characters in this Star Wars movie. Some folks balked at the introduction of a female lead; others were excited. Regardless of where you stand on change (and how well you deal with it), the fact remains that change–especially in the nonprofit landscape–is inevitable.

How are you creating a board culture that can have tough discussions about the future of your agency?

How are you and your board striving towards being exceptional, or are you stuck in “the way things have always been done”?

How are you introducing “controlled change” into your board room? Do you have a plan in place to keep “new blood” flowing into your organizational leadership?

Are you honoring term limits, rotating committee service, and building a board that will help you into the future?

A shared love can span generations. 

Many parents who grew up with Star Wars had a unique opportunity this past December: They could now share this love with their own children. Whether it was through family movie nights, video games, toys, Halloween costumes, etc., multiple generations came together around a common theme. In the nonprofit sense, this shared love can and should be about your mission and your work to better our community.

How are you passing the torch (or light saber in this analogy) along? What plans do you have for succession of your key board leadership? How will all of the great work you’ve accomplished continue past your service?

How is your nonprofit sharing your mission work with the community at large? Are you tapping into to “nextGen” technologies to engage multiple generations who can easily distribute the information to their networks?

Admittedly, the Star Wars analogy may seem a little hokey. A little played out, even. Truth is, it’s time for our sector to look to the future and prepare for whatever galaxies lay ahead. The next generation of nonprofit leaders is already here…are you prepared to bring them on board?

May the force be with you.

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