As the staff of any association can tell you, onboarding new leadership is an important process that can reap many rewards. However, the process for when those leaders eventually leave may not be as well defined. Ensuring a smooth exit for your former president or board member not only make a difference to them but also your association.
After all, your volunteer leaders aren’t just involved individuals. They are key resources and relationships who you’ve invested tremendous of time and energy over the span of many years. They can be prominent promoters or unhappily disengaged. It’s important to remember that they are likely lifelong members, potential future volunteers, and key association ambassadors. Perhaps most importantly, they have valuable insights about leadership development and governance—but only if you know the right questions to ask.
1. What did you enjoy about your service?
This one might sound like a softball, but it can do a lot more than make your graduating leader reminisce about the best parts of presiding over your association.
Most volunteer leaders have dedicated years of their life to preparing for and fulfilling their role with your association; therefore, it’s only natural for them to experience a wide range of emotions—including feelings of grief and loss—when it comes time to give up that position.
Reflecting on the most enjoyable parts of the experience helps volunteer leaders consider and articulate the intrinsic value of service. This positive reframing helps ensure that your leader will encourage others to get involved, creating a larger, and better-informed, pool of potential leadership talent for your association.
It’s important to remember that volunteer leaders are prominent, trusted members of their industry. Their opinions—good and bad—can hold a great deal of sway with both current and future members. Ensuring that leaders leave their roles with a positive perspective means they are more likely to share an equally positive message about your organization—and that’s one form of marketing you can’t get anywhere else.
2. What ways would you like to continue to be involved—and if you don’t have any ideas right now, when can I touch back with you?
Sometimes, transitions are the result of a person’s leadership trajectory coming to a natural end. It is usually planned (end of term) or the result of an election, in which a standing member may not have been re-elected. Either way, the change can be met with concern, disappointment, anger, or other reactions that, whether fair or not, may be directed toward the association.
Exploring opportunities for continued involvement helps your leaders know that they are still valued and their continued service is welcomed. This can help alleviate fears of no longer having a voice in the association they helped support and grow. In more extreme situations, it can also help pacify hurt feelings associated with rejection or concern.
It is important to remember, however, that these individuals may not have considered how (or if) they want to be involved in the association going forward. Some may be burned out and contemplating a break. Others may still be processing what they will do with their newfound time.
By keeping this question open-ended, you’re giving that person permission to consider and envision how they will engage with the organization going forward—while still reiterating the message that they are an invaluable asset.
3. What would have made the experience better?
This critical question will help you asses and improve your onboarding and governance. Sometimes, several leaders will identify the same issue, enabling you to adjust your operations accordingly to ensure the best possible experience for others. If the issue identified cannot be changed, take the time to educate the leader about why the process or procedure is the way it is. Without context, the leader may regard that issue as simply an overlooked problem. Often, the answer to this question is a universal problem that is beyond your reach, such as the common sentiment from leaders that it took them a long time to feel comfortable in the role. Hearing that others expressed similar concerns might help them contextualize—and feel more positively toward—the early stages of their term.
4. What are the three most important lessons you learned from this experience?
Every leader learns something during their term, whether it’s a lesson about conflict resolution, operations for nonprofit organizations, or how to connect with others—but they might not realize what they’ve learned until you specifically ask.
Ask your leader if there are new skills and information they gained during their term that can be directly applied to their career or future volunteer positions. This helps deepen one’s understanding of not only the personal but also the professional benefits of service.
5. Do you feel that you were able to make a difference?
Every leader should be able to identify at least one way they made a difference for the association. To ensure your exit interview doesn’t end on a sour note, prepare a list of the ways in which you’ve seen the leader positively affect your organization. Not only will you show them that you value their efforts, you may help them see their term as more successful and significant.
Transition and endings are never easy. But by using your exit interview as a way to soothe feelings, highlight the value of serving, and gain insights into the association, you can help ensure that from each goodbye comes valuable new beginnings for your volunteer leaders.
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