Don’t make strangers of former board members

For the most part, I agree that term limits for board members are spot on. There’s nothing like the fresh insights, enthusiasm, and connections of  newcomers to board service to jump-start organizational governance. However, there’s a potential downside to the rotation system. It can (and does frequently) make strangers of some of the organization’s best friends.  

For a season, board members throw their minds, hearts, and financial resources into the organization, and then they leave. That’s the cycle of board life. Despite declarations of continuing devotion, absence seldom makes the heart grow fonder— at least when it comes to former board members.

In fact, the more apt cliché is “out of sight, out of mind.” Unless CEOs and development staff are intentional about trying to stem the natural progression of things, years of service quickly fade to little more than a pleasant memory.

So what’s to be done? In an article that appeared in two versions – first in In Trust magazine and then in Focus on Accountability — I suggest the following.

Ask soon-to-depart board members if and how they wish to be involved with the organization. It’s a hard truth for CEOs and board leaders to accept, but I’ll say it anyway. Not every board member desires a continuing relationship beyond his or her term of service.

Be realistic in what you promise. Caught up in a flurry of optimistic fervor, CEOs (and especially those new to the job) can fall into the trap of envisioning a level of involvement for former board members that simply isn’t sustainable.

When it comes to engaging the continued interest and involvement of exiting board members, “significant” is the word of the day. In fact, putting former board members to work on important and interesting projects is the sincerest form of appreciation.

Immediately on the heels of words of appreciation for board service should come an invitation to continued involvement. The goal, after all, isn’t simply to rotate members off the board, but rather to rotate these most committed volunteers into new realms of service to your organization. When that happens, holding the hearts and interests of former board members won’t be a problem.

What's your take on this topic?

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