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Sunday, June 25, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


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Young and on board

Special to The Seattle Times

Nonprofit boards were once much like corporate boards of old — primarily the province of wealthy, older white males.

Now they have their eyes on people like you.

Many social-change groups throughout this region are seeking new board members who are younger, female and with different ethnic backgrounds — realizing that a broader range of perspectives leads to more effective programs.

The trick: Most younger women don't envision themselves on a board. Many actively volunteer but making big decisions about group direction around a boardroom table sounds intimidating to many, something to maybe try later on.

Example: Rhiannon Andersen, 29, of Kingston, a Kitsap County-based real-estate agent and former youth-development director with YMCA. She didn't consider herself board material before being asked to join Reel Grrls, a group that empowers girls to gain media-literacy skills and teaches video, audio and Web production.

The truth: "I had this impression that people who served on boards were maybe older and had more life or work experience," Andersen. "But they value my youth-worker perspective as much as someone coming from the financial world, or a lawyer."

Considering serving?

Here are resources:

Nonprofit board and public-commission opportunities (recently, 150 board openings).

Board skills workshops; topics include strategic planning, roles and responsibilities. Links and resources for running effective boards.

Project Lead, a leadership-training program for people of color.

Money myth: Many also mistakenly believe that board members are required to write big checks. In fact, most charities now ask only that board members give an amount that's personally meaningful, that should represent one of their largest donations of the year.

"I've seen everything from $50 checks to $1 million," says Nina Odell, board chair of YWCA, of Seattle/King County/Snohomish.

What exactly do you do? The days of long, snoozy monthly board meetings full of dry committee reports is over. Board members wrestle with issues of group direction and future vision, oversee executive recruiting, talk fundraising strategy, exchange ideas, evaluate programs, help set budget priorities, and discuss potential acquisitions and mergers.

Good, and good for you: Besides the obvious — the good feeling that you're helping your community — board members report other benefits. It's a great résumé builder; an opportunity to learn new skills, as boards usually have people with a variety of areas of expertise; and a way to meet people from different walks of life whom you might never have crossed paths with otherwise.

As Melanie Roberson, who serves on the board of Powerful Voices, says: "It's a refreshing way to meet people you respect and appreciate."

Meet her and two other nonprofit board members:

Jacque Larrainzar

30, Seattle Office for Civil Rights, policy analyst

The nonprofit: Northwest Women's Law Center. Advances legal rights for women.

How she got on: Met the director through her job, then was nominated by a recruiting-committee member.

Her role: Brings a nonattorney view and perspective of a self-described "Mexican-born Basque-Lebanese lesbian" involved with Latino and gay charities.

Why she does it: Feels she has broad impact on women's lives through the law center, like her work lobbying a bill to better protect domestic-violence victims. "When you see the results, it's pretty amazing." Beefs up her management skills and Rolodex, too.

Melanie Roberson

33, instructional designer at

Nonprofit: Powerful Voices. Fosters the potential of adolescent girls in Seattle public middle schools and in juvenile detention.

How she got on: Went to a group fundraiser, volunteered on a group event, then was approached about board service.

Why she does it: "I really feel like I'm a decision-maker. I'm really responsible for how the organization sets about meeting its mission."

Elise Horner

23. Master of business administration candidate, joining consulting firm Accenture in fall. Miss America contestant.

Nonprofit: YWCA of Seattle/King County/Snohomish County; it recently created a Young Leaders program to add two younger women to its37-member board.

How she got on: As an intern with UW business school's Board Fellows, she helped create the Y's Young Leaders guidelines — then applied for a board slot.

Why she does it: YWCA's focus on homelessness (her issue as a Miss America contestant); the opportunity, as she prepares to enter the corporate world, to gain media-savvy and money-raising skills and learn how nonprofit boards operate versus business boards.

"I wanted to work with a large board that functioned well."

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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