Having a Youth Advisory Board can be a great resource for your organization! Youth provide new, exciting ideas to take your programs and activities to the next level. We are so fortunate to have an incredible group of high school students who volunteer their time to provide input into various aspects of our programming and conduct substance abuse prevention projects. Additionally, it is an honor to partner with them as they develop leadership skills that will benefit them at school, at work and in life.
As our Youth Advisory Board has been operating for over two decades, we know that creating a successful Board takes time. Here are five strategies to help you get an effective Youth Advisory Board started within your organization:
- Incorporate Youth Voice:
Youth Voice is the knowledge, perspectives and experiences of young people, and is an essential element of any organization that works with youth. When you begin integrating Youth Voice into programming, it is imperative that youth have a safe place to share their thoughts, input and opinions. Listen to their ideas related to projects and activities, and actually use them! Also, if you have a Board of Directors, invite a few youth to sit on the Board and encourage them to actively contribute during meetings. By listening to and utilizing the ideas of young people, organizations gain fresh perspectives and can more effectively reach youth as a target population.
- Set Clear Boundaries & Expectations: According to Search Institute, youth need clear rules, consistent consequences when those rules are broken and encouragement to do their very best. At the beginning of the year, it’s important to discuss your expectations and the “why” behind them with your Youth Advisory Board. In order to get everyone involved, have the group brainstorm various consequences that they can agree to if expectations are not met. Be sure to hold all members accountable to these consequences after they are put in place. By doing so, Youth Advisory Board members will gain responsibility for their actions and understand they are held to a higher level by someone who supports them.
- Work on Facilitation Skills: Start small by asking youth to find and lead an icebreaker or team building activity at the beginning of each meeting. Before the meeting, find time to work with the member(s) leading the activity to provide feedback and encouragement. After the activity is completed, give specific praise; for example, “You did a great job speaking loudly enough for everyone to hear and giving clear, concise directions.” Throughout the year, look for additional opportunities to have youth lead activities, give reports and practice facilitation skills.
- Allow for Executive & Leadership Positions: Hold elections at the beginning of the year for roles such as President, Vice President, Secretary and any others that make sense for your Youth Advisory Board. Prior to the election, outline the position expectations so that it is clear what each requires. By having youth vote, you provide an opportunity for them to have a say on who they deem to be the best fit. Once elected, understand that youth may need support in learning the role before taking and running with it. Act as a mentor, and provide them with tools and resources to be successful. One way you can accomplish this is by creating an annotated agenda for each meeting that outlines all that needs to be covered. Share this with the President and Vice President, go over it prior to each meeting, and over time, allow them to take over the preparation of the document.
- Allow Youth to Participate in Higher-Level Planning, Implementation & Seeking of Funding Sources: When you are using the Strategic Prevention Framework to plan your next prevention project, invite your Youth Advisory Board to join in! Youth can provide valuable feedback and insights related to the project while also gaining knowledge about how to take a project from start to finish. Don’t forget to invite them to be a part of the implementation, too. This is a great way for them to see plans turn into reality! Youth are also excellent resources to help you find additional funding sources to sustain programming as several scholarships and grants ask for youth writers. Have Youth Advisory Board members research funding opportunities and, if appropriate, involve them in the application process.
These strategies have helped us to establish an effective, creative and beneficial Youth Advisory Board within our organization. We hope these help you to build a solid foundation for your Youth Advisory Board as well!