Credit unions targeting young adults as prospective directors should deliver this message: We value you for the professional skills and perspective you bring to the table, not merely for your age, gender, or ethnicity.
That’s the chief takeaway from a panel discussion about attracting younger board members at the CUNA National Credit Union Roundtable on Board Leadership.
“There’s some truth to the advantages of having demographic representation, but what we should want to seek out is the right kind of talent,” says Andrew Stickney, 31, a board member at VSECU in Montpelier, Vt., and CEO of Burlington Bytes, which offers web design and marketing for small businesses in Vermont.
Credit unions seem to be getting that message. According to a Filene Research Institute survey, 64% of boards now consider specific skills in recruiting, compared with 43% in 2005. Nonetheless, practical considerations for recruiting younger directors exist, such as providing crucial perspectives on the use and value of emerging products and services.
To recruit and retain younger directors, evaluate the way your board operates. Consider these suggestions from the panel, which also included Tara Leer, board member at P1FCU in Lewiston, Idaho, and Richard Bowers, board chair at Sooper Credit Union in Arvada, Colo.:
Be proactive. At credit unions with nominating committees, that group has ultimate responsibility for identifying candidates. But every director should take ownership by initiating conversations with young adults they respect to gauge their interest and qualifications.
“They’ll be honored you asked—and if they can’t make it work, nine times out of 10 they can recommend people who’d be great choices,” Leer says.
Be creative. How many people less than age 40 read your monthly credit union newsletter religiously? Consider advertising for director positions in channels they already use regularly, such as social media, email, and text messaging.
Also, rethink the election process so younger segments of your membership can more readily cast a ballot for their peers.
Be persuasive. Millennials might not know that serving as a director is an option for them, let alone recognize their value to the credit union. When someone first approached Leer, she was as puzzled as she was pleased.
“My initial instinct was, ‘I’m not qualified,’ ” says Leer, who worked in marketing before becoming a stay-at-home mom. “I didn’t have a financial services background, and the value of having board members from different industries never occurred to me.”
Be transparent. Associate director programs provide an apprenticeship of sorts for young adults who aren’t quite ready for—or ready to commit to—a full-time board position. These programs allow the credit union to evaluate whether someone is a good fit.
“It’s a great way to introduce individuals to what the board does on a month-to-month basis,” Bowers says.
Be flexible. Holding board meetings in the afternoon might not be conducive for young adults with demanding jobs, notes Bowers, an attorney. And sprinkling committee meetings throughout the calendar can wreak havoc on people with young families or active social lives. Explore switching to an evening schedule and piggybacking additional meetings on the front end of full board sessions.
Be efficient. In that same vein, take advantage of technological advances in communication to streamline your meetings by addressing low-impact or low-value issues ahead of time. Instead of simply distributing advance materials in PDF form, promote interactivity by sending out “live” meeting packets featuring online shared documents such as Google Docs, which everyone can access and comment on simultaneously.
Be helpful. New directors benefit greatly from continuous education, formal and informal, because of initial information overload. “The first couple of meetings, I felt like I was drinking from a fire hose,” Leer says.
Create opportunities for inexperienced directors to ask questions privately by assigning mentors or establishing regular check-ins with the board chair. Encourage or require them to take classes through CUNA’s Volunteer Achievement Program.