Thanking a board member or volunteer for their service is tricky territory. Doing nothing carries the least amount of expense but has the most down-side. It is disheartening to watch an individual fade into the night without mention or commendation. Many times these fans slip from the radar screen, the annual report, and email list, often feeling unappreciated. Another approach endorsed by optimist football league is that everyone gets the same token and recognition. There are no winner and there are no losers. As master BoardSource Governance Consultant, Sandra Hughes used to say, “you wack ’em and plaque ’em.” A handshake and something to go on the bookshelf was the minimum standard.
The next level up is a customized or more personal approach. You invite the retiring board member or volunteer to an event that has a more genuine touch, perhaps a reception where a peer provides meaningful reflection. The end-result should be the departing volunteer leaves on a high note and continued engagement is likely. Some nonprofits offer an official committee or advisory council position to departing board members or leaders such as a past board member’s council or past board president committee. Then there are the causes that go over the top. A party worthy of a fundraising gala is thrown. For all you know a cruise liner could have been christened among the decorations and fan fare.
Perhaps a naming opportunity appears among the honors. This approach works for some enterprises and is needed by those who worry about the legacy of their service.
The process is unique to each cause. A certificate and personal photo can bring one person to tears and be anticlimactic to another. Everyone receiving the same token is treasured like a varsity letter by one group and scoffed at by a partnering cause. Finding your organization’s way is the organic part of the social sector.
Just one note, remember to get the details right for the honored individuals. I am the proud owner of a pottery plate thanking me for my four years of service as board chair. Just below the organization’s logo is my last name, misspelled. It was a humorous but awkward way to wrap-up an intensive period of service.