Placing youth in leadership roles on boards and committees

Youth can be involved on boards and committees by being full voting members and giving them leadership roles.

4-H officers
Photo courtesy of National 4-H Library

Youth and adult partnerships are a valuable tool to involve youth in decision-making roles. The accompanying Michigan State University Extension article, “How to involve youth on a board or committee,” talks about the importance of involving youth on 4-H councils, boards and committees. In this article, we will look further at not just giving youth a voice, but involving them in additional leadership roles.

Changing the frame of mind of adult members on boards and committees can be very challenging when introducing the idea of having youth be members of the group. It can get more difficult when trying to convince them to allow the youth to serve in officer roles. However, involving youth provides energy, new ideas, momentum and a fresh, new perspective.

Youth are a wonderful asset to committees and have proven to be tremendous leaders when serving in all roles. However, when a group is not yet ready to embrace the idea of youth serving in these larger roles, you could present the idea of youth serving as junior or assistant officers alongside the adult in that role.

A junior officer has the same roles and responsibilities as the regular officer, but works with an adult in that role. This allows youth an opportunity to engage in the role, but have the assistance of an experienced adult to guide them and strengthen their skills.

A junior officer model may look like the following.

  • Junior president: Works with the president and 4-H staff to draft agendas for the meetings. This officer will work with the president to run the meetings by taking charge of the top of the agenda (call to order, pledges and reports) and then turning the meeting over to the adult president to lead from old business to adjournment.
  • Junior president: Presides over the meetings with guidance from the adult president. The junior officer and adult officer will hold a position on the executive board and each have a vote during those meetings.
  • Junior secretary: Responsible for handling correspondence such as reading anything that comes into the 4-H council at the meetings and writing thank-yous, letters and sympathy cards, etc. These items will then get turned into the 4-H staff for final approval and mailing. In addition, the junior secretary will take their own record of minutes, type and turn them into the 4-H council secretary within one week of the meeting so that the junior secretary and adult secretary minutes can be merged together.

There are many different ways this type of model can be written up as long as the two officers are working together and have equal rights.

Another model would be to have officer shadowing. This is the least beneficial way to involve youth, but is a step in the right direction. Officer shadowing is where a youth shadows each officer. They may help the president create the agenda, go to executive meetings, sit at the front of the room during regular meetings with the president and so on. However, they would not be viewed as a president, so they would not have a vote on the executive committee nor would they be considered a president. They would, however, need to be regular members of the committee and the president could pass over their presidential duties to them on certain occasions so they have the opportunity to serve in that role.

Once groups have had a chance to experience success with youth serving in roles such as those stated above, hopefully they will be ready to move into the final and best practice model. This model is to open the elections to allow either youth or adults to be voted in as officers. If a youth is voted in as president, then they would serve as the president for the time outlined in the group’s by-laws, preside over the meetings, create the agenda, serve on the executive committee and so forth. They would be the officer for the committee and be expected to complete all the tasks that go with that role. Just as any adult, if the youth is given the right tools, such as parliamentary procedure training, proper room set-up, a job description or list of expectations and support, they will be successful in these roles.

For more on youth and adult partnerships, developing by-laws, parliamentary procedure training or any leadership and civic engagement issue, please contact MSU Extension’s Leadership and Civic Engagement Team at

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