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Effective Strategies for Training and Onboarding Volunteer Board Members in Destination Marketing

In destination marketing, volunteer board members are invaluable assets. These individuals bring diverse skills, perspectives, and networks that can significantly enhance a destination marketing organization's (DMO) strategic direction and community engagement efforts. However, ensuring that these volunteers are effectively trained and onboarded is crucial to maximize their potential and align their contributions with the organization's goals. Here are some practical recommendations for destination marketing executives to effectively train and onboard their volunteer board members.

1. Develop a Comprehensive Onboarding Program

Structured Orientation Sessions: Begin with a structured orientation program that covers the DMO’s mission, vision, goals, and key performance indicators. Provide an overview of the tourism landscape, including current trends, challenges, and opportunities.

Short-Form Videos & Microlearning: Short-form videos can provide concise, engaging introductions to key organizational aspects and responsibilities while micro-learning modules offer bite-sized, interactive lessons on specific topics. This allows new board members to learn at their own pace and convenience. This combination ensures efficient and flexible training that accommodates busy schedules and diverse learning preferences.

Detailed Handbook: Create a detailed handbook that includes information about the organization, roles and responsibilities of board members, governance structure, and contact information for key personnel. This handbook should serve as a go-to resource for new members.

Mentorship Program: Pair new board members with experienced ones who can act as mentors. This peer-to-peer interaction helps new members acclimate quickly and provides them with a reliable source of guidance and support.

2. Provide Continuous Education and Training

Regular Training Sessions: Schedule regular training sessions that focus on specific aspects of the DMO’s operations, such as marketing strategies, financial management, and community engagement. Use experts from within and outside the organization to deliver these sessions.

Online Learning Resources: Develop or curate online learning resources such as webinars, e-courses, and articles that board members can access at their convenience. Platforms like TourismAcademy.org offer valuable courses tailored to the tourism industry.

Workshops and Retreats: Organize annual workshops or retreats that combine training with team-building activities. These events provide an opportunity for board members to deepen their understanding of their roles while fostering camaraderie and collaboration.

3. Foster a Culture of Open Communication

Regular Updates: Keep board members informed with regular updates on organizational progress, key projects, and industry developments. This could be through monthly newsletters, emails, or dedicated online portals.

Feedback Mechanism: Establish a feedback mechanism where board members can share their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions. This could be in the form of surveys, suggestion boxes, or regular feedback sessions during board meetings.

Transparent Meetings: Ensure board meetings are conducted transparently, with clear agendas and thorough minutes. Encourage active participation and make sure all members feel their voices are heard.

4. Engage Board Members Actively

Task Forces and Committees: Create task forces or committees focusing on specific areas, such as marketing, finance, or community relations. Assign board members to these groups based on their expertise and interests.

Project Involvement: Involve board members in critical projects and initiatives. Provide them with clear roles and responsibilities and recognize their contributions publicly to motivate and engage them further.

Social Events: Host social events to strengthen relationships among board members and with the broader team. Informal gatherings can enhance teamwork and make the board experience more enjoyable.

5. Utilize Technology for Efficiency

Board Management Software: Implement board management software to streamline operations. Tools like BoardEffect or Boardable can help organize meetings, share documents, and track tasks.

Virtual Meetings: Leverage virtual meeting platforms for more frequent and convenient interactions, especially if board members are geographically dispersed.

Data Analytics: Use data analytics tools to provide board members with insights into tourism trends, visitor demographics, and the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. This data-driven approach can help in making informed decisions.

6. Recognize and Reward Contributions

Public Acknowledgement: Regularly acknowledge board members' contributions in newsletters, social media, and meetings. Public recognition can be a powerful motivator.

Awards and Certificates: Consider awarding or presenting awards or certificates for outstanding service and achievements. These can be presented at annual meetings or special events.

Personalized Thank You Notes: Simple gestures like personalized thank you notes from the CEO or board chair can go a long way in showing appreciation and fostering a positive board culture.

By implementing these strategies, destination marketing executives can ensure their volunteer board members are well-prepared, engaged, and motivated. Practical training and onboarding not only enhance board performance but also contribute to the overall success and sustainability of the DMO. As Maya Angelou wisely said, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." With a robust onboarding program, continuous education, and a culture of open communication, DMOs can indeed do better and achieve greater heights in their mission to promote and develop their destinations.


About the Author: Stephen Ekstrom

Stephen Ekstrom is the embodiment of a passionate lifelong learner and a seasoned professional in the tourism industry, serving as the CEO and co-founder of the nonprofit Tourism Academy | tourismacademy.org. With over 25 years of experience, he has cultivated a deep understanding of tourism development and education, driven by his commitment to advancing the industry and fostering sustainable economies. Stephen's insatiable curiosity and love for knowledge have led him to be a proud nerd, constantly seeking to expand his expertise and share his insights with others. Alongside his faithful furry companions, Rudy and Marjorie, he embraces the digital nomad lifestyle, traversing the globe and immersing himself in diverse cultures. A dedicated advocate for continuous improvement, Stephen is a professional member of the Association for Talent Development, a member of Skal International, and holds prestigious certifications in Inclusive and Ethical Leadership from USF and Sustainable Business Strategy from Harvard Business School.

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