Why Children’s and Junior Executive Boards Are Key for Mission-Driven Organizations
When I created the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation and Animal Sanctuary in 2013 to honor my daughter, a 6-year-old victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, it was paramount to stay true to her vision of compassion. Catherine always said that one day she would care for animals and that nurturing them was her passion, whispering to every creature she met, “Tell all your friends that I am kind.” Within those simple yet profound words, were the innocent seeds of a mission waiting to unfold.
In a nonprofit world of adult decisions, donor engagement, annual reporting, grant writing, event planning, and a myriad of other tasks, how does an organization stay rooted in the purity of a child’s vision? By creating a children’s and junior executive board, a group of young leaders dedicated to maintaining the integrity and focus of forward action and strategy.
For the sanctuary, choosing and nominating board members required key components and requirements that shared similar qualities to a formal executive board, yet unique to children:
- Members were selected because they exhibited Catherine’s value and held the spark of compassion, acceptance and determination
- Flexibility to grow with the organization, starting as children and evolving to the junior levels
- Animal lovers who were like-minded and mission-focused
- Creative thinkers with the ability to imagine, dream and establish a vision
- Energized and inspired youth excited to engage their communities
At first, board members found my organization. I saw Catherine in the children who hosted fundraisers and joined our programs, looking for any opportunity to interact with the animals. It was these children, the ones who reminded me so much of Catherine, that inspired me to form the children’s advisory board. Within the first year, the nonprofit invited 13 children who embodied the mission and values of the sanctuary to join the board. Over time, this program has grown to include a peer nomination process in which nominees present examples of how they have embodied the foundation’s core values to the boards.
As a nonprofit organization that provides a wealth of youth programming geared toward educating children about animals and nature, our children’s and junior executive boards were invaluable to us as we designed our youth programs. Any organization that works with children or designs programming for this demographic should consider forming a children’s or junior executive board to help ensure they are reaching their audience in a meaningful way.
Additionally, since the inception of our children’s and junior executive boards, the organization has implemented programs and goals that our “older” minds might not have conceived of. For instance, the launch of Catherine’s Cups of Kindness, a market-ready lemonade stand complete with cups, recipe cards, stickers and instructions, was inspired by one of our youngest board members who raised $5,000 for the sanctuary in her backyard drive-through lemonade stand.
Another example of compassion in action stems from our biggest annual event, Catherine’s Butterfly Party, a free family festival and super pet adoption event that welcomes more than 7,000 people every year and finds homes for close to 100 animals in need. As we were mapping out the event highlights, a few of the children shared their empathy for kids who are unable to own or adopt a pet due to allergies, housing limitations or other factors. Together, they presented an idea to offer plushy dogs and cats in all breeds, so no child had to walk away from the event without a forever friend by their side. Complete with adoption certificates, the initiative evolved to the official “Catherine’s Animal Shelter” plushy station and continues to be an annual favorite.
Not only does having a children’s and/or junior executive board help nonprofits remain true to their missions, but also helps kids grow and develop as leaders early on by engaging them to think creatively and exercise their problem-solving skills. According to the Children's Bureau, community involvement is beneficial when practiced in early childhood — by creating a sense of community, kids learn important relationship-building skills that improve self-esteem. Having children participate in local organizations can teach them how to tackle challenges, build knowledge and thrive.
Throughout the years, our children’s and junior executive boards have kept us directed and clearly focused on innocence and kindness. In return, the organization shares complete transparency, presenting the same strategy, financial reports and planning materials given to our formal executive board. There is no hierarchy where vision is concerned.
This December I will reach a somber milestone of 10 years since the tragedy at Sandy Hook took the life of my daughter. But with each passing day, I am reminded again and again that Catherine’s vision lives on in the hearts and goodness of generations to come.
Jennifer Hubbard is the executive director of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation and Animal Sanctuary, a Connecticut-based nonprofit organization working to promote compassion and healing through human animal connection. The foundation was founded in 2013 to commemorate and honor the life of Jenny’s daughter Catherine Violet Hubbard, a 6-year-old victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy and passionate animal lover who dreamt of someday working with and caring for them.