Nonprofit board members whose terms have expired are typically recognized at annual meetings with gifts, plaques or certificates of service. In many cases, this is like saying, "Here's your hat--there's the door." Rarely does the organization have a plan for continuing to connect with these folks, many of whom represent significant assets - i.e. talent and expertise - that can be meaningful to the organization for years. For the very best among them, there is no guarantee that replacements will have the same or superior skills and talents.
Here are some new and established ways to keep them engaged or to reengage those who have drifted away from the organization.
Advisory Board - Include them in an advisory board to the CEO and/or Board Chair. For prestige purposes, it is important that the board be clearly designated as a sounding board to the CEO and/or Board chair when both are appropriate. This group should include selected former board members plus others from the community or industry. Agendas should not be packed with detailed power point presentations, leaving only brief time periods for open discussion. My experiences with these boards are that they should meet three or four times a year. A reasonably large one, 15-20 people, is required; understand that on the average, not all will be able to attend.
Form an "Alumni Group" - Major consulting and business organizations (e.g., McKinsey and P&G) actively support a networking group of former employees who also may meet on an occasional basis. The organizations have newsletters which report on former employee professional changes and successes, and provide current membership rosters that offer tremendous networking opportunities. It also gives the group an opportunity to reconnect on their own with old friends/colleagues and to become updated on their families and activities. Obviously the costs and efforts for maintaining the activity are modest.
Nonprofits could improve on this model by also offering occasional short conferences, 1.5 days maximum, for former board directors related to the mission of the nonprofit. They can be conducted locally or at some off-site retreat, so spouses or significant others can be included. The conferences can be operated on a self-sustaining basis if developed at a moderate cost that is divided among participants. Agendas will need to be carefully planned with a small group of potential attendees.
Continued Direct Contact - The nonprofit CEO needs to have informal contact with each current board member three or four times a year to update directors on new potential strategies and ongoing challenges faced by the organizations, a minimum of 45 informal personal or phone contacts a year to help solidify his/h relationship with the board.
Board members can assist the CEO by performing the same function to keep former directors engaged through three or four informal contacts each year. Total time commitment would be a maximum of four contact hours a year per person to be contacted. To be certain that all responsible for making these contacts are on the same page with current information, some reorientation on current organizational policies and strategies will need to be developed.
A Personal Observation
Having served on 12 nonprofit boards, ranging from charitable to professional and trade boards, I have collected my share of plaques, certificates and even one Tiffany electric clock! After departing from each board, I or my colleagues' only contacts included an occasional newsletter, donor request, etc. all boiler plate communications, even those addressed personally.
Many of my colleagues are highly talented people with a continuing interest in the organization. I am certain they would have welcomed an invitation to participate in the future growth of the nonprofit. Boards are responsible for making certain that talent is maintained at a high level. It is time that programs for retaining or reengaging talented former board members are taken seriously by nonprofit boards.