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14 Points to Successfully Involving Young People in Organizational Decision Making

From Youth on Board
  1. Know why you want to involve young people.
    Check your motivation. There is no wrong reason to involve youth. You may want young people to have leadership opportunities, or you may perceive youth as true partners in decision making. Just be sure to match your efforts to your motives.

  2. Secure organizational commitment.
    An organization’s leaders and staff must be committed to involving young people. They may be asked to commit extra time to trainings, explain rudimentary meeting processes or even provide transportation to meetings.

  3. Conduct a thoughtful and thorough recruitment process.
    Extend the opportunity for governance to youth from a range of backgrounds, even those you might not expect to be interested. You want a young person who possesses skills, a unique perspective and a readiness for your governance environment. The most obvious young person may not be best for your governing body.

  4. Compose a letter of agreement and conflict of interest policy.
    Once a new member is offered the position, carefully review a letter of agreement and your conflict of interest policy which both parties sign. This ensures that new people in leadership positions understand the terms of their positions, and it increases both parties’ levels of commitment.

  5. Conduct a thorough orientation and training.
    It is important to orient youth to your structure and policies, especially so with young people who might be new to professional environments. Orientation also gives you a chance to find out more about your new leader, so you can thoughtfully involve her or him.

  6. Train leaders on intergenerational relationships.
    At least one meeting per year should be committed to youth/adult team building. Intergenerational groups are always more successful when members have explored their own thoughts and attitudes about age.

  7. Institutionalize young people’s involvement.
    This means amending bylaws and policies to state that young people are permanently included in decision making and leadership. Young people should be promptly replaced by other young people when their service has ended. This ensures that youth involvement is not just a phase of your current administration.

  8. Overcome legal barriers.
    Most states’ laws are silent on the issue of youth serving in governance positions. Where laws do exist, they generally speak to youth on boards of directors or youth as incorporators of organizations. The issue of legal liability and youth can sometimes seem daunting, but with proper precautions it can be easily managed.

  9. Make your meetings interactive.
    Activities like "go arounds" and "brainstorms" ensure that everyone has a voice in the decision making process. They create a dynamic environment that will engage all of your members and are critical to involving youth.

  10. Meet with and mentor younger leaders.
    For youth to be full and active participants, they need time to prepare for meetings and to evaluate and discuss them afterwards. Adult leaders should meet with young people for a few minutes before and after meetings.

  11. Involve young people in visible leadership positions.
    Committee positions and other visible leadership roles should include young people as frequently as possible. Involving youth deeply in governance fosters their fullest participation and ensures that they are included in important matters.

  12. Network young leaders with their peers.
    Set up systems and situations for young people to network.  If there are other local young people in leadership positions, bring them together on occasion to discuss their work, learn new skills, and support one another.  This kind of networking re-energizes youth.

  13. Network adults who support young leaders.
    If there are other organizations in your community with young people in leadership positions, gather together adult board members to discuss their successes and struggles with involving youth.

  14. Accommodate young people's special situations.
    Special situations will arise when involving young people.  A board should be flexible by accommodating school schedules and transportation difficulties.  Family commitments and extracurricular activities deserve the same consideration as adults' work trips, vacations, and flat tires.

This list was provided by Youth on Board, a group that assists organizations involve youth in their governance structures. To inquire about Youth on Board information and services, call their central office at (617)623-9900 or email YouthBoard@aol.com .

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