Be a better board member: 12 steps

Know your values, embrace training, and seek younger perspectives.

January 24, 2023

Board members at four credit unions, along with a strategic planning adviser, recently offered their thoughts on how to become a more effective director.

Phyllis Ford, board chair at $204 million asset XCEL Credit Union, Bloomfield, N.J.; Tim Harrington, president at TEAM Resources; Courtney Jones, director at $1 billion asset Community 1st Credit Union, Ottumwa, Iowa; Doug Mah, board secretary at $4.7 billion asset WSECU, Olympia, Wash.; and Pat Tollefson, director at $823 million asset Corporate America Family Credit Union, Elgin, Ill., share these insights about improving board service:

1. Join the asset/liability management committee. You’ll learn the business of the credit union, including financial controls and the levers to turn to adjust operations.

2. Know your values. Know who you are and where you come from, as well as the lines you’re unwilling to cross.

3. Be purpose based. Find your credit union’s specific purpose within the people helping people motto. Once you do so, you’ll attract both members and board members who want to be part of your mission. 

4. Demand services with “digital age” appeal. Young consumers have a digital baseline for their financial partners. That means being able to open an online account within 10 minutes and responding even more quickly to mobile loan applications.

5. Share your skill set. Board members are chosen for what they can contribute. Sharing those talents enriches the board and the credit union.

6. Trust but verify. Knowing your management team will help build trust. At the same time, board leaders must ask questions and challenge management until they understand everything presented for approval. 

7. Make strategic planning a mandatory event. Strategic planning sessions provide an opportunity to hold open conversations with staff and other board members, gain valuable insights, examine data, and benefit from an outside consultant’s assistance. 

8. Practice gratitude and mindfulness. Doing so allows you to cope with stress, increase your effectiveness, and retain your optimism and sense of purpose. 

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9. Listen. Educate yourself and ask questions at the board meeting or later. If you have an opinion share it. If not, stay quiet and listen so you can contribute in the future. 

10. Ask for a mentor. Having a mentor with board experience makes it easier to ask questions about how and why the credit union does certain things.

11. Embrace training. Attending training and conferences will help you understand what’s ahead and contribute to board discussions. 

12. Seek younger perspectives. If your credit union wants to attract younger members, encourage the board to recruit young professionals as directors.

Many young professionals want to contribute to organizations tied to their personal convictions.