I was recently asked if there is a silver bullet for recruiting millennial-aged board members. This question comes up frequently when I’m on the road presenting to credit union management and volunteers. I believe it’s one of the most important questions credit union leaders should be considering right now.
Last year, I was in front of more than 30 credit union boards facilitating strategic planning sessions, and I can vouch that there are few millennial-aged volunteers serving our credit unions today. It’s a problem, especially when the dominant strategic questions we’re considering revolve around attracting and retaining the next generation of borrowers.
The low-hanging fruits
Recruiting and retaining the next generation of board members is challenging. I’m not aware of any silver bullet for attracting younger board members. However, there are several approaches that I’ve seen work. Let’s start with the low-hanging fruits.
Reach out to former scholarship recipients. There are a lot of credit unions that have provided scholarships to high school students. These former students will remember you. If you’ve been awarding scholarships for a while, reach out and find those students from five or more years ago. Most of these young people will have graduated college by now and are focused on the next steps of their career. For this group, the opportunity to add board service to their resume, and the opportunity to give back to an organization that helped them, could be attractive. If you don’t have a scholarship program, you might want to consider it as a goodwill gesture and future board recruitment tool.
If your organization is having a hard time recruiting younger people for volunteer positions, it may be that there is little about your organization that’s attractive to them or inspires them enough to get involved. Their non-paid contribution to your credit union must be consistently rewarding to them.
There is only one way to fix this, and that is to evolve. Your organizational priorities and your brand must be congruent with the priorities and passion of the people you want to attract. If you doubt your relevance to the next generation, proactively evolve and become an organization that is desirable and inspiring.
If you’re not sure how to appeal to younger potential volunteers, just go ask and do your homework. Don’t assume. If you look around, you’ll see that the next generation is finding ways to get involved in activities centered on issues that are important to them. Environmental concerns and social justice inequalities are two powerful causes that jump out. Many young people are passionate about these causes, and they are giving time and money to support them (two things they have very little of). They want to do business with organizations that advocate for these causes. These are just two examples, it doesn’t have to be these two. But, whatever the cause is, it should be big enough to inspire people to action, and it must be relevant to them.
In previous articles, I’ve written about Bank Australia. Years ago, its leaders determined that they needed to figure out how to attract and retain the next generation of credit union members, as well as their next generation of volunteers. They began their quest with focus groups to identify what issues were the most important, then they evolved as an organization to make these issues the focus of their priorities. They evolved into something that has inspired thousands of young people.
Sometimes recruiting the next generation of board members requires having someone from the old guard step down. It’s not uncommon to hear “we really can’t add anyone new until someone retires.” It can be difficult for volunteers to let their “baby” go, and pass the torch. These volunteers have given decades of selfless service to the credit union, and its success matters to them. It can also be difficult for their peers to suggest it might be time to step down. While it isn’t always easy, it must be done.
Why it matters
I’ve seen the difference it makes when a credit union has a millennial-aged volunteer or two on its boards and committees. These individuals are usually more engaged in the conversation, and they have relevant insights and contributions that I believe result in better decision making. Most boards want to do a better job of attracting and retaining younger members. While there is no silver bullet, it is possible with an escalated priority on getting it done.
Volunteerism and democratically elected representation is the hallmark of the credit union movement. This legacy makes us different and better. Open inquiry, the free flow of ideas, and debate are essential parts of a true democratic process. No other financial institution group has done a better job at grassroots efforts. It’s time we get active and make sure we have the volunteers we need to make the best decisions about how we will remain relevant tomorrow.