Former board members are hidden assets in plain sight! They typically have a wealth of knowledge, experience and a passion for your mission and can be powerful contributors in strengthening your organization for years to come. Capitalize on their value by intentionally keeping them involved in whichever way works for them and your organization.
As nonprofit leaders, we often focus our efforts on engaging current board members in supporting and strengthening our organization year after year. However, hidden in plain sight are those passionate, dedicated, knowledgeable departing board members who have served out their terms, sometimes burned out by their commitment, but still committed to the cause. Is this a missed opportunity we may be overlooking?
Most Boards thank and recognize departing board members in various ways. Once they’re gone, they get back to the business at hand. Very often, the ex-board members become invisible to the board and the organization’s leadership. They may be kept on your mailing lists and you may connect with them when you need something or to ask them to contribute to your various fundraising opportunities during the year. But they’re not actively engaged.
You’ve worked so hard to cultivate these relationships over time, why let them disappear when they step down from the board? You have an opportunity to keep past board members as advisers, ambassadors and engaged donors.
On the latter, many former board members represent exactly the vision of what donor-centered fundraising is all about:
- Passionate about the mission. They are usually passionate about your organization’s vision and mission, which they most likely were engaged in developing and have been involved in executing the organization’s strategy. Their values are your values which fosters strong bonds and ownership.
- Consistent and significant donors. They are reliable donors and often major donors building their giving over multiple years on the board. There is an expression that the best donor prospects are the donors you already have. In other words, continue to grow relationships with former board members and that investment may pay off in increasing financial support.
- Community ambassadors. They have invested their time, talent, and treasure and are proud, enthusiastic, knowledgeable ambassadors in your community. If you keep them engaged, they can continue to connect you with others in the community that can translate into future supporters. If you don’t engage them, they can potentially undermine your credibility in the community by expressing disappointment or frustration about having been abandoned.
Why then do we so seldom utilize these passionate, dedicated individuals? It’s often about priorities. Moving forward, identifying new board members and looking for ways to engage current ones. We also may not step back and recognize the potential contribution former board members can still make to the organization.
So, what can you do as a leader to keep these valuable people engaged?
Utilize the ‘exit interview’ strategy. Prior to a board member leaving, the board chair and the ED, if there is one, or other appropriate board member, should sit down with the person to thank them for their contribution and ask for their thoughts on how they might like to stay involved with the organization.
Some may want to be involved at a high level while others may need a change but might be interested in a smaller yet meaningful role. Together, determine what is the best fit for them now and importantly, send them a follow up note to confirm what, if any, new capacity it is to which they have committed.
Come prepared with your ideas on how they might stay involved. It might be:
- Serving on an Advisory Council
- Continuing as a donor
- Introducing potential board members and/or perspective donors
- If advocacy is their skill, using their knowledge and experience in talking to government officials
- Working on a project task force or serving on a committee, using their specific skills and expertise
- Writing a blog or short story about their passion and experience with the organization
- Volunteering at events
Recognize and show gratitude. Recognize them in a meaningful way consistent with the culture of the organization when they exit the board. However, don’t stop there. Look for opportunities to keep the connections and relationships you have built with them and to showcase their contributions.
Be intentional and re-engage. Once they’ve left, follow up with a coffee date to interview them about their experience as a board member and what recommendations they might have for enhancing a future board member’s tenure.
A few questions to consider in a face-to-face or virtual session include:
- How would you describe your board experience? What did you like about being on the board?
- Did you feel like your contributions to the board were fully appreciated?
- What suggestions do you have for board improvement/enhancement?
- Did you feel the board valued diversity and acted inclusively?
- What are some things you would like to share with future board candidates about the board?
- Would you recommend others join this board?
Communicate and personalize it. Treat them as valued because they are. Have “alumni” or other special events to connect former board members with each other and with the organization. Personalize communications to the former board member group. For example, if you’re sharing a quarterly newsletter, add a cover note to former board members to personalize the message. Consider an insider update or first look at the new strategic plan. Lastly, don’t only reach out to them when you need to raise money!
Certainly, there are former board members that never really engaged and only occupied a seat. That’s one of the reasons for term limits. It’s a different conversation with those past board members. However, you still need to treat them with respect and ask their opinion about their experience on the board and how it could have been enhanced. Lastly, thank them and recognize them for their service.
Remember that your current board is watching how you treat former board members because they will be one someday. It’s an opportunity to let your current board members see your values in action!
For more advice on how to engage your past board members or other board engagement ideas, reach out to me firstname.lastname@example.org or Jane Baxter Lynn at email@example.com. For information on our Nonprofit Board Leadership Essentials© visit https://jblstrategies.com/ble