I served on your board for two consecutive three-year terms. I was re-nominated for that second term because I was doing a good job.
I rarely missed a board meeting or a committee meeting. Each year, I gave a gift, steadily increasing it over the years. I volunteered to take on some one-off tasks, based on my profession and my experience.
You gave me a nice book when I stepped down. You said complimentary things at the farewell board meeting. You sent me a nice letter, too. Truly, the farewell activities were kind and gracious.
But then…I never heard from you again.
Oh, sure. You sent me the regular solicitation letters. But back when I was on the board, you solicited me personally. I told you that I was giving you one of the biggest gifts I ever gave. But still, I got dropped from the personal solicitation list.
Of course, I received the donor newsletter and the annual report - but never a special note, not even on the thank-you letter for my gifts. Just about every exchange with you feels like you forgot I ever served on the board.
If you think this is an unusual story, you are mistaken. I see organisations do this too often. I have had that experience. I have colleagues and friends who have had the same experience. And I will bet you may have had the same experience, too.
You served on that organisation’s board. I did, too. We gave more than money. We gave time. We made a place in our lives for the organisation. We did not abandon the organisation. But the organisation kind of abandoned us.
How does this happen? What can we do to keep past board members involved, or at least acknowledged?
Before we get into specific ideas, let me explain my general thinking.
First, why does this matter? Why does it matter if an organisation stops acknowledging its past board members? Who cares?
Look back at the opening to this column. I spent lots of time with you. I made a place for you in my life beyond giving money. We were connected and involved. The relationship was more than financial contributions.
As an executive director and development officer (I have been both), I think we owe you - our former board members - more than ‘thanks and farewell’ and a book or a plaque.
I am also assuming that you, our former board member, are probably still a donor…a loyal one.
Why would I assume this? Because this column is talking about former board members who actually believed in the cause. These board members actually cared - and likely still care and still believe in the cause.
I do not care much about those former board members who used your organisation to build a resume or as a stepping-stone to a ‘more important’ charity. Or those who did not show up much, never really participated.
I am talking about the engaged and caring volunteers of time and donors of money. I am talking about loyalty and commitment.
Next, I assume the organisation knows who its former board members are. (You might think that is obvious. But I know organisations that have not kept an easily accessible, up-to-date list.) Just like you want your current board members to know who your most loyal donors are…I think you want your current board members to know who your most loyal board members are. Share the list. Highlight your loyal donors who are former board members.
So here are my engagement ideas today:
- Invite former board members to serve on committees. These individuals can still offer important perspective and expertise;
- With your donor newsletter, include a cover letter for former board members. If you are using best practice with your donor newsletter, you are sending it in an envelope, not as a self-mailer. So include a letter addressed to former board members. It’s not a solicitation letter. It’s just a ‘hello’ and a ‘thanks again for serving on our board’. This personal note accompanying the newsletter reminds me that you remember me. I feel honoured;
- When sending out a programme or special event invitation, stick in a little note for former board members. Same reasoning as #2 above;
- At events, whether programme for fundraising or cultivation, how about having ‘former board member’ nametags? (I’d have another that says ‘donor’, too.) And for those who are donors and former board members - include both. Of course, make sure your current board members have a nametag, too. (Remember, nametags are icebreakers, conversation starters, and comfort builders.);
- Invite former board members to host cultivation gatherings in their homes to introduce your organisation to those who might be interested. Invite former board members to co-host a cultivation gathering with a current board member;
- Invite former board members - along with loyal donors - to an insider update. A cup of coffee, a muffin, and an update about how we are spending your money…the organisation’s recent impact;
- Maybe send out an annual update letter to all former board members. No request. Just an update. After all, former board members should certainly be concerned a special group;
- If you solicit former board members through direct mail, how about making sure that the letter mentions their former position as a board member…a letter specially written for former board members?
- How about an annual cultivation gathering for former board members only?
- I hope you invite former board members to help you conduct your personal face-to-face solicitation campaign each year. (And if you do not yet conduct this kind of annual fundraising campaign, read my prior columns that urge you to do so.);
- And how about having current board members make thank-you calls for gifts made by former board members?;
- Maybe you create an Ambassadors Corps. You invite your most loyal donors to join. You invite former board members who are still donors to join. You even invite some of your major gift donors to join.
Ambassadors are invited to make thank-you calls to donors. Ambassadors are invited to an annual gathering for a personal update. What else could you do with ambassadors?
Okay. That is it for today. Try these ideas if you have not already. Please share your ideas with all of us, in the comment section. Thanks. And keep your former board members close.
- Simone Joyaux is a consultant to nonprofit organisations. This article first appeared in the Nonprofit Quarterly.