There’s an argument brewing in the association community. On one hand there are folks who believe that millennial’s should be on the boards of associations. We should have at least one under 30 on the board representing the membership especially as we want to get more of these new-to-the-profession members engaged, participating and contributing. On the other hand there are those in the association community who believe that board representation will come in time for this younger generation. Board membership comes with influence and experience. To get influence and experience you’ve got to put some time in the industry.
I’d like to change that argument entirely. It is dangerous to assume that any one person or even handful of people can represent the thoughts, feelings, wishes and needs of a much bigger community or many segmented communities. And yet that’s exactly what most boards are asked to do.
Board members are not like your members
Marketers at P&G, Adobe and Toyota are not hired because they are the demographic they are targeting. In fact some consumer companies go out of their way to hire marketing talent that is clearly not at all like the ideal consumer. The new hires have a passion for the brand, sure, but they are not the biggest consumers of the brand. Hiring managers do this because they are trying to avoid the “I like this” bias. Despite reams of carefully researched data a powerful brand manager may sway a strategic decision because they listen to their own voice too much. Even if they could, hiring the person who exactly reflected an average customer’s beliefs would be like finding a needle in a haystack.
The same goes with your board. The one millennial on your board, aside from age, may have very different behaviors, worldview and goals than the average member of her age. This is not just the case with millennials, across the board your board members do not represent your membership. By virtue of seeking this office they are not your average members.
The best board members have empathy
The best marketing companies do not rely on their marketing hires to be their most loyal customers. They do however, rely on their marketing hires to have great empathy for their most loyal customers. These marketers seek to get close to customers. They talk to them and they observe them. They work as hard as they can to stand in their customer’s shoes.
This, I believe, would be the qualities of the best board member. Not one who says “we should do this because that’s what I would have wanted”. But a board member who listens to the data, facts and research and has the empathy to look at the association through another person’s eyes.
- Your association is not working not the things that will improve member value
- Is your association okay?
- 3 layers of member insight