A Valued Resource: Retired Board Members

Receiving responses to these articles about non-profit organizations is quite encouraging and comments and questions from readers are very much appreciated. Several weeks ago an issue was raised concerning what to do with members of board of directors who complete their terms of service to the organization. The by-laws of agencies structure the governance procedures and in addition to defining board members also contain provisions for dealing with the length of the terms of office.

It is easy to thank board members for their many years of service and give them an award or memento of the contributions they have made to the organization. Once valued leaders have completed their service as a member of the board; held one or more positions in the executive or steering committee; and perhaps served as president or chair of the board, what do they do next? Many organizations are at a loss as to how to involve the people who have seemingly “retired” from active involvement and many of these committed leaders find their way to other agencies and boards.

Retiring board members represent the collective memory and wisdom of the board and there are ways to keep them involved and engaged with the organization. It requires creative thinking and developing new roles for the people who have held key positions in the organizations. When a leader has fulfilled important responsibilities they want to know they are continuing to perform a valuable function or they will feel they are wasting their time.

There are a number of ways veteran leaders can continue to be engaged in the organization. These include serving on special committees, providing mentoring to newcomers, continuing to raise funds for the annual campaign or special appeals for capital projects, and participation in public events when the agency wants to demonstrate that there is broad support among its constituents. Each of the above require a great deal of thought and thorough planning so they are real jobs for the former activists and not just titles to be written on stationery after their names on the letterhead.

For example, it is a common practice to have former presidents, chairs of the board and officers serve on a nominating committee. The by-laws usually stipulate the term of service for officers and board members. Since former leaders generally have an understanding of the needs of the agency and the challenges faced by the leadership, they are in an excellent position to suggest names of the candidates for the open positions on the board. When a former member is appointed chair or member of the nominating committee or it is a position that acknowledges both the person’s commitment to and knowledge of the organization.

One additional example of keeping former leaders involved is developing a mentoring process for the non-profit. The renewed strength and enthusiasm comes from the infusion of new leadership on to the board of directors and the various committees. Former leaders and board members can be tapped to assist the newcomers in understanding the governance process of the board as well as the general functioning of the agency in the community. It often takes many months for the new arrivals to follow what is taking place at board meetings, and instituting a mentoring system can assist in the education and integration of the newcomers. It also awards a certain status to the mentor and continues to foster their identification with the agency.

This is just one of the many challenges facing the non-profit in its efforts to build a strong functioning board of directors that will remain involved, enthusiastic and committed to the organization. Strengthening the board is one of the most important aspects of the voluntary agency and the veteran leaders are a resource to be utilized in this process.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.