1st of a 5 part series:  Former Board members as investments

Board members rotating off  Main Street boards are an often overlooked resource for many revitalization organizations. Past Board member’s accumulated wisdom and good feelings about the organization are an exceptional asset for local Main Street organizations. These relationships and positive viewpoints should be further developed for the organization’s future.This is the first of a series of five blog posts about continuing to involve board members after their term is done.

Benefits of retaining past board members

Most board members who rotate off the Main Street board after their bylaw stipulated term of service, are good-natured people who have nobly served the Main Street organization.  They represent an investment by the organization in training and development in the Main Street Four Point Approach. ™  They know and understand the organization’s history, culture and customs, having been participants in their creation.  Most past Board members retain a solid working relationship with other current and past board members.

 Using their accumulated wisdom.

For most, Board members have come up the ranks in the local Main Street program, and have seen the organization first as a volunteer, then committee member and board member or officer.  In many cases, they have also become major donors to the organization through their own annual gifts, participation in fundraising events, raffles, or through sponsorship of events through their business or other charitable connections.  They are often glad to be called upon to be cheerleaders and organizational spokespeople for reporters, at city council meetings, or serve as official liaisons to other clubs and organizations in town if asked. But they need to be asked. Former Board members then, are assets and investments that are too valuable to lose.

Asking for continued involvement

Several months before a Board member is scheduled to rotate off the Board, have an informal lunch meeting with him or her, the Executive Director and Board president.  Based on the person’s specific skills and talents you might want to come prepared to the luncheon with a short list of a few small projects that you need to undertake. These tasks can vary from confidential research, task force leadership, or providing mentoring or training to newcomers to the board.

Talk to the Board member about their service on the board and ask about any memorable moments or tasks that were especially stimulating,  Ask them if they might be interested in continuing their involvement with the organization when their term is up by taking on one or two small projects on behalf of the board, Executive Committee or Executive Director.  Discuss your list of possible projects, but also be open to ideas from the Board member about what they might be interested in working on, based on their own interests or passions for the organization.

Offer to create a short work plan for the project you agree to, so that there are deadlines and acknowledgements if there funds need to be expended to undertake the work.  Ideally these requests for specialized assistance should occur before the annual meeting when the board member rotates off.  Acknowledgement of their continued involvement with the organization should be made at the annual meeting. We will further explore how former board members can be most useful to local Main Street organization through the eyes of specific users of their information and relationships.  First up is the new Executive Director.

 New managers and former board members For new Main Street Executive Directors, past board members are a veritable gold mine of information. Because most are local people who have worked hard to support the downtown effort, they have special knowledge of personalities, local politics and often know “where the bodies are buried.” Any effort to meet and learn from former Board members can make the difference to starting strong in a new position. Well regarded past Board presidents are especially valuable people to meet within the first six weeks on the job.  Due to the fact that they are not intimately involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization any longer, they provide wisdom and perspective about the organization.  In most cases they will be happy to answer questions that might be perceived as “dumb.”

To understand the past, talk to a past board member Past board members also have a long-term perspective about the organization and can offer insights about customs and traditions of the board that might seem opaque to new managers.  Because they have seen staff come and go over time, they can give keen insights about past events that they have chaired for example, or board dynamics. Founding board members can be especially helpful to interview within the first six months on the job, because they can provide background about what the downtown looked like in the early years of the revitalization effort. A short walking tour of the downtown with a founding board member can reveal the past that would take otherwise weeks of searching archives and newspaper files. Other blog pieces in the coming weeks will focus on how former board members can be helpful in:

Information for this blog post was developed for a training session called “Keeping Former Board Members Involved When their Term is Done.” Please contact us if you wish to know more about this session.