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May 14, 2014
And the Band Played On: What to do when you lose a Development Director
May 28, 2014

The Hidden Treasure of Former Board Members

treasure-chestI’m about to rotate off a board I’ve been on for six years. For those six years, I have traveled back east to attend board meetings quarterly. I’ve led the fundraising committee, engaged in an executive search, and made the organization one of my philanthropic priorities.

In sum, I’ve put a lot of effort into being a board member, as most board members do.

But based on my experience with lots of other organizations, I’m expecting a little gift of some kind and then to slowly fade away into the rest of the donor pool.

When it comes to former board members, I think most organizations might be missing an opportunity. They are actually a powerful segment of donors that hold promise in a variety of ways that other donors don’t:

  • They know your organization inside and out and can be great ambassadors to others
  • They have heavily invested in your organization and are prime prospects for planned giving donors
  • They have already elevated their giving (most likely) as a board member and with the right cultivation could continue to give stretch gifts
  • They understand the need for unrestricted funds for your organization

Hmmm…Engage others? Make planned gifts? Give stretch gifts? Write unrestricted checks?

These are truly precious donors!

And don’t underestimate how many of these gems you have. I recently calculated that an organization that has been around for 20 years with a Board of 20 probably has more than 150 of these jewels.

So, what can you do to make sure you harness their devotion, enthusiasm, and generosity?

Honor: Most organizations have a standard operating procedure for thanking board members for their service. I’m hoping that your organization is giving something that is personally meaningful and connected to mission to your departing volunteers.

But, I’m thinking we need to go beyond that. We need to make sure that we have an “exit” interview with each board member before they leave to honor their experience and hear their advice about moving forward. Not only might this produce some fantastic insight, it will also allow us to hear specific interests of the former board member that can be considered as we steward them as donors.

This conversation is a way to pave the future. What kinds of things would this former board member be interested in doing outside of Board service?

Here’s the start of a list:

  • Hands-on volunteering
  • Serve on an advisory or events committee
  • Help recruit other board members
  • Be featured in a newsletter as a testimonial
  • Make a planned gift
  • Serve as an ambassador to new donors
  • Serve as a mentor to staff
  • Use their professional connections and expertise to assist in some way

Connect:   While some board members need a break from board service, most are happy to change their involvement with your organization to a lower level commitment. Don’t let them slip away without a promise of returning in some capacity. (Of course there are board members that you’d rather not see again, but those are hopefully few and far between!)

It’s also a good idea to connect past board members to each other and the organization by getting them together from time to time, if not in person, in some virtual forum.

An organization we know brings former board chairs together on an annual basis to provide guidance and counsel to the incoming chair. Others have “alumni” events and gatherings to kick off new initiatives, like one we know that recently brought former trustees together around an endowment campaign.

Nearly anything you are trying to accomplish, this group can be activated to support it.

Sustain: While it may seem like a lot of trouble to segment out former board members and tailor their communications, it might really be worth your while. The other day, I was sitting in a board meeting, listening to a discussion about fundraising. Several members remarked that they used to give to this organization or that one because they were on the board, but now they don’t.

These are donors that gave to an organization consistently when they were on the board – probably more than they gave other organizations at the time. Why should it stop with the end of board service?

What can you do to keep those former board members giving?

A few ideas:

  • Make sure you ask them what kind of communication they want from you and then honor those requests
  • Tailor and/or personalize all communications that go to this group, acknowledging their service
  • Recognize their giving through some sort of giving circle, featured communication, or a special notation when you are publishing lists of donors
  • Consider asking them for a sustaining monthly gift
  • Ask every board member – past and present – to consider making a bequest gift

Talk about high value donors! Past board members are a treasure trove of good will, devotion, and future gifts right at your doorstep. Don’t let them slip away!

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