Appeal to their desire to drive and influence change

How to make your credit union’s Board of Directors cool

We’ve seen a lot of conversation in the past few years about the member aging problem and its impact on the future of the credit union movement. Yes, it’s undeniably an obstacle, but more than a few credit unions could benefit from examining themselves, particularly the Board of Directors, along with their membership. 

To put it plainly, we don’t often see younger people in leadership roles at credit unions. And if someone takes the time to look at your Board of Directors and finds it’s a sea of gray hair? Well, you can’t be surprised if they get the impression that your CU’s culture is conservative and inflexible.

I’m not saying they’re right to think this way. We know it takes a variety of perspectives and a lot of experience to lead a credit union. But we also know the importance of branding, and that you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Furthermore, it’s not easy to get young people into leadership positions, particularly the Board of Directors. It requires quite a bit of commitment. So, being a younger person myself, I started wondering: What would it take to make joining a credit union’s Board of Directors appealing to someone like me? Can we make Board membership cool?

They can’t get interested if they don’t know the Board exists

That first impression I was discussing earlier? There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that it’s probably pretty rare that someone actually forms an opinion about your credit union based on who is on the Board of Directors. Buuut… that’s probably because they’ve never actually seen them in the first place.

In fact, they may not even know the fundamentals of how a credit unions work – how many of your members know that there’s an elected all-volunteer Board making the high-level decisions?

We’ve spent a lot of time looking at credit union websites, so we can say that there are surprisingly few credit unions that seem to want to talk about their Board at all. Only a few talk about the people who serve on the Board of Directors, and even among those, most don’t explain the responsibilities of a Board member or how or why to become one.

If your credit union has any interest in finding younger people to join the leadership team, you can’t keep information on your Board of Directors hidden.

Invite them and guide their growth

As we said in last week’s article, you can’t wait for leadership material to knock on your door. You have to go looking for them, and you need a clear path for them to follow all the way to Board Membership.

Serving on the Board of Directors takes passion, time and a daunting amount of homework. So there’s no benefit to throwing your fresh-faced volunteers into the deep end. Putting interested young people on special advisory boards or something like a special event planning committee will help them ease into future roles.

Honestly, I find the concept of a “mentor” program really enticing. It would certainly make a big difference for me, if I was looking to volunteer with my credit union. Having the opportunity to connect with and learn from a current Board member would help both parties understand each other, and themselves, better. It would mean more consistency in the CU’s trajectory, and it would show the CU’s commitment to supporting their Board members. I’m honestly surprised this isn’t a widespread approach already.

Show them how to drive change

To be honest, if you asked most of my friends and peers why they’re not pursuing volunteer opportunities like serving on the Board of Directors, they’d probably laugh. Young people are focused on careers and families, as always, but also on finding affordable housing and a job with reasonable pay and benefits. Young people don’t have an abundance of free time even when times are good.

Making volunteer opportunities attractive to young people is going to be difficult. You can’t expect them to pay attention to old standbys like, “It looks good on a resume,” when so many of them are looking for a second or third job just to pay the bills.

I’ve wracked my brain on this, and the best idea I’ve come up with would be to appeal to their desire to drive and influence change. Wanting to contribute to positive change is the hallmark of the idealistic youth, and the unfortunate truth is that a lot of people feel like they’ve been denied that opportunity over the past couple of decades.

What I’m saying is that there’s no shortage of people looking for a way to help make the world a better place, and that’s what credit unions do. They just haven’t connected the dots, and they don’t know how they can get started because no one has shown them the way.

Serving on a CU Board of Directors isn’t the most glamorous work, but it’s a real way to make actual change in the community. You just need to show them how to get started.

Sam Dicken

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