It should be an exciting experience when new members join your board. They bring a fresh perspective, add expertise, and energize the meeting room—all qualities that can positively impact your board and organization. This especially rings true when welcoming new Millennial board members.
Millennials, after all, come from a generation that tends to be enthusiastic about service. They also tend to value personal relationships over business ones, a valuable trait for fundraising and development roles.
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, then moving to the agenda and expecting instant success. Such an approach leads many amazing organizations to develop retention issues, especially with new Millennial board members, when filling their board of directors or advisory boards.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
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 disengaged.
Millennials compound the importance for better introductions—and formal board orientation—for several reasons:
As we can see, these characteristics of Millennial board members reinforce the importance of authentic connections. For boards, that often means slowing down so members can get to know 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?
Here are a few ways to improve new board member engagement and increase retention. Keep in mind that Millennial board members will steadily fill more and more seats in the coming years.
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 in 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:
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 backup plan for inclement weather. Also, make the dress code casual or appropriate for the outdoor activity. This puts everyone on a level playing field, reducing the potential intimidation factor that comes with typical formal work attire.
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” to be one of the most effective ways for people to connect with each other. Many 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. That way, everyone can mingle, and work with your board chair on an activity (or activities) that all 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.
What should you do if a new board member joins your team, but you don’t have a board retreat planned? Or what if 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 the 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.