New members joining your board should be an exciting experience. They bring a fresh perspective, add expertise, and energize the meeting room—all qualities that can improve your board and positively impact your organization.
This especially rings true when welcoming Millennials, a generation that tends to be enthusiastic about service and creating personal relationships over business ones.
However, many boards fail to plan special events that welcome and set new members up for success. Introductions often amount to the chair reading a short bio to the group, then moving to the first agenda item and expecting instant success. Such an approach leads many amazing organizations to develop retention issues, especially with Millennials, when filling their board of directors or advisory boards.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Why Millennials Should Make Us Rethink Board Introductions
Many new board members, no matter their generation, don’t personally know the current board. A quick go around the table mentioning names and places of work is not exactly members “meeting” each other. This is a surefire way to get new members to leave your board, or perhaps worse, stay on as unengaged.
Millennials compound the importance for better introductions—and formal board orientation—for several reasons:
- Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce. At an estimated 53.5 million and growing, Millennials have already started filling board positions.
- Millennials seek purpose in their work. This generation is passionate about impacting its communities, and that starts with making genuine connections.
- Nonprofits and Millennials form a natural fit. In addition to being service-oriented, Millennials tend to be tech-savvy, and nonprofits are primed for a tech boom.
As we can see, the size of the Millennial generation, combined with its values, reinforce the importance of board members taking the time to authentically connect with each other.
There’s an understandable issue here, though: Nonprofit boards are often short on time. You need to introduce new Millennial board members in a way that makes them feel connected, valued, and ready to contribute—but how can you do that when time is short?
3 Ways to Connect New and Existing Board Members
Here are a few ways to improve new board member engagement and increase retention, keeping in mind that Millennials will steadily fill more and more board positions in the coming years.
1. Pick a team building activity.
Team building increases morale and productivity, and when applied to boards, it can be an effective way to keep members engaged. When choosing a team building activity to welcome new members, focusing on the how and when is just as important as the what.
With that mind, consider adding new board members and planning an introductory team-building event at the same time each year, if you can. Here’s why:
- It sets and clarifies expectations. Current and new members will know that in January, for example, there will be a special event or retreat where they can connect.
- It streamlines your planning. Slating a specific time of year for a welcoming event makes things much easier. You won’t have to plan something during a time that is inconvenient for the organization.
- It keeps team building on your priority list. Your annual strategic plan will, understandably, keep you indoors working on your goals. But if you include team building in your plan, you can get out of the office for some kind of team activity, preferably in nature.
2. Take meetings outside.
Research shows that being outdoors imparts mental, physical, and emotional benefits, especially in a park or other area surrounded by trees. And it’s not just health that improves, but also productivity.
After being outside, your board members will likely return more focused, creative, and attentive because of the rejuvenating effects of nature. A full meeting outdoors is ideal, but even if you can only spend a little time outside, such as at the beginning for introductions, you can expect greater ideas and engagement during your strategic meeting.
Tip: Don't let the weather hold you back. If it’s cold out, make sure you dress for the weather and plan an activity appropriate for the season, and always have a back up plan for inclement weather. Make the dress code casual or appropriate for the outdoor activity since this puts everyone on a level playing field, reducing the potential intimidation factor that comes with typical formal work attire.
3. Plan a technology-free board retreat.
If you have the resources to plan an outdoor team-building activity, do it. From my years of organizing and leading groups, I have seen “unplugging” be one of the most effective ways for people to connect with each other. Most people do not speak to one another face to face anymore; being in an outdoor environment where you are fully present makes a world of difference when engaging with your group or team.
Tip: Make sure your facilitator puts new and current members of the board together so they can mingle, and work with your board chair on an activity (or activities) that everyone will enjoy. Planning out a fun activity that will be well received by everyone can be tricky, especially when managing multiple generations. A good group organizer, though, will be able to accommodate your needs, so long as you’ve communicated the uniqueness of your situation.
Planning Something Simple Is Better Than Planning Nothing
What should you if you have a new board member joining your team, but you don’t have a board retreat planned, or it’s not the time of year for your annual introductory meeting?
Easy. Just plan on doing something simple, making sure that as many of your board members can attend the meetup as possible (at minimum, at least half of your board should participate). You could go out to lunch, grab breakfast before work, or attend a happy hour.
Also, remember the value of being outside. Consider organizing a hike in a nearby park, or plan a bike ride around the city—most cities now have bike shares that make it easy if someone doesn't own a bike. Schedule something where your board members can get together and focus on connecting with each other, not talking about the organization or company goals. You will spend plenty of time doing that together!
Last, when welcoming a new board member, make sure to go out of your way to make them feel like part of the team. They will always remember that first impression. You know your new board member feels passionately about your organization or else they would not have agreed to join. To keep them feeling inspired, passionate, and excited, make that first introduction and experience with the board a memorable one.
Danielle Wolter Nolan shares her lifelong passion for the outdoors through Indianapolis-based DNK Presents, where she specializes in retreats and team-building events that help business and nonprofit professionals disconnect from technology and reconnect with themselves. She has led hundreds of activities (and counting) in state and national parks throughout Indiana and beyond, including yoga retreats in the Grand Canyon. Click here to learn more about Danielle and DNK Presents.
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