Relationships are hard. They take time, they require attention, and typically, they call for a little bit of patience and understanding. After that kind of investment in your relationships with board members, why throw it all away when a member leaves your board?
For many organizations, the end of the year means voting in a new group of board members and saying good-bye to those whose terms have ended. As your departing board members ride off into the sunset, think about how your organization can maintain its strong relationship with them. After all, these are people who have given their time and talents to the organization during their board terms. Most likely, they are loyal donors to your organization. Former board members are an important constituency for your organization and it makes sense to maintain these relationships.
Recognize and Thank
As your board members are departing, lay the groundwork for continuing the relationship by recognizing and thanking them for their service. Recognizing departing board members can be tricky. Some people appreciate public recognition; others do not. Recognition can be as simple as comments of appreciation during departing members’ final board meeting. Some organizations may choose a more elaborate approach—from presentations of plaques to hosting ‘going away’ parties.
However your organization chooses to recognize its departing board members, it should be in keeping with the organization’s culture (and budget) and should be somewhat consistent from year-to-year. It might create ill-will to have a lavish party one year and then recognize the next group of departing members with no more than computer generated certificates the following year.
Conduct Exit Interviews
Exit interviews provide an opportunity to talk with members about how they’d like to continue their involvement with the organization. They are also a good way to learn from your departing members about their experience serving on the board. These conversations are best conducted by the board president or a member of the board’s executive or governance committees in an informal setting outside of the organization. Keep the discussion short, upbeat, and focused on what the member appreciated about her board service and what suggestions she has for engaging new board members and improving board work. The executive committee can use the aggregate information from the interviews to consider adjustments to board processes. Any specific information about a member’s continued involvement with the organization should be provided to the appropriate board or staff member.
Treat ’Em Like Family (in the best sense of the word)
It’s strange to be a valued part of the leadership of an organization one minute and a faceless, ‘dear friend’ the next, but this is the way that many organizations manage their relationships with former board members. Past members remain part of the organizational family; it’s important—and strategic—to treat them as such. This status should be noted in the organization’s database to help maintain the institutional history of the relationship.
If someone served on the board, he should not receive standard ‘dear friend’ solicitation letters. For organizational insiders, all correspondence should be personalized. As loyal donors to the organization, former board members should be approached personally when being asked to make a gift to the organization.
They shouldn’t only hear from the organization when it needs funding. Design one or two ways to keep these important people informed about the organization. Provide periodic updates—via email, postal mail, or in person—to keep them in the loop and engaged in the work of the organization.
While some board members may move on to other organizations, others may be interested in continuing service to your organization. Consider forming an advisory group or emeritus board to serve as community ambassadors. You might even ask some of your past board members to serve on a board committee.
After the years of investing in the relationship with a board member, it is a poor use of resources to let the relationship dissolve when someone leaves the board. Finding the best way to maintain your organization’s connections with former board members may require some careful consideration, but it will be worth it as it helps the organization strengthen and maintain its ties throughout the community.