How Do You Treat Former Board Members?

Treat former board members with loveI have a pet peeve about this.  I do not understand why nonprofits do not treat former board members (FBM) as more than run-of-the-mill donors.  It seems to me that someone who has given their time and energy to your organization for 3, 6, or even 10 years is someone who should be cultivated more, not less, as time progresses. Instead, they are put into the large pool of donors and asked to give in the same annual appeal, with the same, “Thanks for continuing to support us!” that any repeat donor would receive.

I have heard executive directors give many excuses. They usually boil down to two ideas: FBMs don’t need to be treated like major donors because they already understand how important their donation is to our organization or, they are moving onto another board so it’s not surprising their financial support will follow.

Neither are necessarily true. Analyze your own FBM current gifts vs. how much they donated when they were serving on the board and you will see what I mean. The numbers are usually so different, they will not even be in the same time zones.  Unless you don’t ask board members to give financial donations in addition to their time but that is a whole other article.

Let’s flip this around and focus on reasons why fundraisers should be excited to speak to FBMs:

  1. FBMs are willing to talk to you. Easy stewardship opportunities should be grabbed, not ignored.
  2. Donor retention is essential for financial strength. If you have read this (or any other) fundraising blog you will know that it is easier, and much less costly, to keep a donor than find a new one. FBMs have given at a meaningful level for years, why wouldn’t you try to retain the relationship?
  3. FBMs are often left feeling neglected. If someone leaves feeling good about their personal impact on the organization, but then feel ignored, their meaningful gifts, and good will, will be shifted towards other good causes.
  4. They still care about your nonprofit. The FBMs may be former because of term limits, personal time constraints, or it’s just time. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to still have a voice and continue to advocate on your behalf.  Ask for advice, like you would any other major donor, and you will continue to get donations.
  5. FBMs have been in your shoes. They know that you are calling important donors to talk about the organization and solicit gifts. They know that if you are not calling them, you are not considering them a priority. And they will act accordingly.

One caveat.  If you have left your FBMs alone for years, they should not be treated as if they stepped off of your board last year.  You can work to reconnect them (as you would any lapsed donor who you care about) but be careful about what you ask for right away. We all want to believe that are volunteer time is as valuable as our money. Instead of immediately asking for a major gift, treat former board members as valued members of the community who have not been updated in a while. Give them the opportunity to reflect on how things have changed and evolved since their departure. Remind these FBMs of why they got involved with you in the first place.  And hopefully, a meaningful gift will follow.