I’ve just finished a conversation with an executive director of a medium size business association.  He has approached us to help him breathe life into his board of directors. How he and his board members got to this stale place stems from a common situation, one that many nonprofits share.  His board has no firm term limits. Some of his directors have been in their seats for over 14 years. The fresh enthusiasm for helping their industry is long gone. While updating the bylaws is on the ED’s list to tackle this year, I asked about what their board meetings looked like. “Just conference calls monthly,” he said.

“When was the last time the directors met in person?” I had a feeling that there was no camaraderie among the new and the old directors. He replied it had been over two years. The entire reason many are attracted to associations is to join like-minded people for a cause, for protection, or for education. Networking was and is the draw for those in business groups. That’s nearly impossible on a phone call. And, I’m not just addressing board meetings.

We all find conference calls and internet meetings financially attractive. Certainly, there’s much to be said for airline and hotel expense savings. But, we are a communal bunch, we humans. Talking heads on a computer monitor cannot fill our need for experience even though our thirst for information may be adequately quenched. Ted Talk style events with much greater participant engagement may serve your members and employees better than an online event. After all, that’s the old one-way communication.

There are new trends including destination events which include team-building activities like scavenger hunts, tours through museums and other unique exhibits, cooking classes, even swim meets. One of our favorite ideas is to work at a city food bank for one day or volunteer at a Habitat for Humanity project that is underway. Then, spend the following day with comrades you’ve had non-work experiences with.

This type of “engagement conference” may take some creativity. The planning and production of your meeting may be best handled by an experienced firm such as Huntington Association Management. From group tours to tug-of-war picnics in the park, there are lots of details to get right.

The conversation with my newest colleague ended with us planning a strategy for him and his board that will start with an in-person board training morning.  Let’s see if we can ignite some professional passions.

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