Do Board Members Really Retire? Making Room For New Lay Leaders

In response to a number of my postings over the last few weeks one of the readers raised a question about integrating new members into the board and committee processes. Yes, it is easy to suggest non-profit organizations bring new people to the board and committees, but what are the implications of extending invitations to those who are not part of the present governance process. Reaching out to involve new people means making room in the present structure of the organization.

When there is natural attrition and board members resign after a number of years so they can become involved in other organizations or due to relocating to another city then the focus of the task is identifying possible candidates. In this situation the challenge is to find the most appropriate people to fill the positions. However, when there are members who do not attend meetings and are not really involved the task is somewhat complicated. How is a member asked to leave the board so the place can be given to someone who will be more active and dedicated serving the agency?

It is important to engage the person presently serving in a direct, honest and yet sensitive manner. Depending on the “culture” of the organization the discussion can be initiated by either the director or the chair of the agency. After arranging for a mutually convenient time to meet the conversation needs to focus on the emerging needs of the organization; the importance of rotating leadership; the process by which new members are sought; and thanking the present member for their involvement. A small ceremony should be planned when all those leaving the board would be formally recognized and acknowledged for their participation in the board. When a person’s leaving the board is carried out appropriately the non-profit does not lose a friend and is able to bring in new leadership.

Occasionally a board member, who is not actively engaged and is a substantial donor, will not want to resign. It is not unusual for the person to express their desire to remain on the board. There are many explanations for this response. Often it has to do with the status of the organization in the community or the values represented by the non-profit. Sometimes the donor receives a certain status from their identification with the organization. When this happens it may very well be that the member maintains their position and is encouraged to be more active in the board’s activities. This is a perfect opportunity to engage the person in a discussion about their desire to remain on the board and what being on the board means. At times such a discussion can lead to an increased involvement and there is a renewed commitment to the agency.

In either case, by exploring the recruitment of leadership, the board is strengthened by new members joining or by providing the veteran members with the opportunity to revisit their commitment to the agency. Through this process the status quo is examined and the leadership is encouraged to occupy an active role and in being accountable for the organization’s provision of services to the community.

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