I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of boards this year. And I’m devastated by how many board members have been telling me, “They’re just interested in my money” and “They don’t really care about the board; they just do their own thing anyway.” Even when board members don’t say that, they often feel it.
Even “professionals” on nonprofit boards can feel slighted
I recently rotated off a board and was shocked at the emotions that welled up in me. I was incredibly angry. My term in office on the executive committee was ending but I didn’t realize my entire board service was ending. There was little communication from the board. I think I might have been part of a conversation about succession planning for the executive committee, but it definitely didn’t remember it when the new slate of officers came out. Despite years of enjoyable and fulfilling service with this organization, the entire experience left me angry and hurt and really not wanting to do much to help them in the future.
The entire time I knew my emotions were irrational. I kept trying to remind myself to be rational. The end of my service to the board just happened to coincide with the end of my being an officer. While the logical part of me knew this wasn’t personal…or at least hoped it wasn’t…the emotional side of me was such a wreck I almost didn’t go to my final conference/annual meeting.
Like the feeling of being the last picked for teams at recess in the fourth grade, rotating off the board with such a lack of communication played to all my worst fears.
Here are some ideas of ways to keep the communication open and to ease the transition.
Check in with outgoing board members
Leaving a board is traumatic. You go from being in the “inner circle” to not getting any communication at all. That’s just how the systems are set up. But it can be difficult. So call an out going board member to let them know you care.
Put term limits on your board roster
I’m a huge fan of term limits for boards. It gives both the board member and the nonprofit a face-saving way to have a break from each other (or to be rid of each other!). But rather than letting board terms sneak up on them, why not list them right on your board roster? That way everyone knows and is reminded.
Develop a culture of thanking board members
Use months like April’s “Volunteer Appreciation Month” as excuses to thank board members for their service. Be sure to thank them at public events. Publicly thanking board members is actually good for you too. Others get to see the caliber of person you are able to attract to the board. But be sure to also thank them privately. And not just blanket “thank you all” statements, but meaningful, specific thanks. “Joe, when you asked that question and everyone sighed, I was glad. Thank you for asking the hard questions that we might forget to ask.”
Those aren’t foolproof. Even professionals get tripped up. But open communication can go a long way toward strengthening relationships between the organization and outgoing board members!