Making your exit

People finish board service for any number of reasons but most of them fall into one of two categories – either you no longer need the board or the board no longer needs you.

The possible reasons for leaving a board are discussed in greater detail towards the end of this help sheet but whatever the reason, it is important that you exit with care and consideration.

It is without any doubt more personally and professionally rewarding to end your association with an organisation neatly and amicably. If you can benefit the organisation in any way on your way out, or make things easier for your successor, it is a very good idea to do so. Here are some ways you can make your exit as painless as possible for yourself and your community group:

  • Think and rethink. While it can be useful for boards to be exposed to new blood and new ideas, it is important to keep in mind that good board members are a very precious commodity and their knowledge, skills and experience are never easy to replace. It is important, therefore, that you think carefully before resigning from a board. See the "end or change" section below for more information on this.
  • Give notice. Giving as much notice as possible (some suggest as much as 12 months) will give your board colleagues a better chance of finding a replacement and easing them into the role.
  • Discuss your reasons. Let your board colleagues know why you are leaving so they are not left wondering if they could have done something differently to keep you on board.
  • Formally resign. Don't rely on a verbal indication of your intentions; if you have never officially resigned from the board you could leave yourself open to legal problems down the track. Make sure you resign in accordance with your organisation's rules.
  • Leave a legacy. Ensure that you leave a history of the work you have done and document any lingering ideas or organisational knowledge you have. Offer to provide a briefing to your replacement.
  • Tie up the loose ends. Fulfill all outstanding commitments and refuse any new work. Return any property or material owned by the organisation.
  • Remain loyal. By all means, if you have legitimate concerns, report them to the right channels. But remember that disgruntled or carping former members can cause real problems for a board and, more importantly, the organisation it is serving. In most cases, it's best for all concerned if you can bite your tongue.
  • Replace thyself! By far the best parting gift you can give to a board is to take away the headache of organising a replacement to carry on your work. While it is very bad form to push a new member onto the remaining board, providing them with some options will be very well received.

When you no longer need the board

You may feel that you have outgrown your board role when:

  • Your goals have been achieved. Some people join a board with a specific purpose in mind – to help steer it through a particularly difficult period, for example, or to oversee a specific project that requires particular expertise. Once that goal has been achieved, you may decide that it is time to move on.
  • You have stopped growing. A lot of people join a board to improve their skills or provide further challenges. As with most roles in life, after a while it may seem that your development as a board member has begun to stagnate. This is another common reason for people to end a board role.
  • You feel a need for new or different challenges. Even if you are finding your board role challenging, there may be times when you want to re-think your position on the board and make a change in direction.
  • Your personal circumstances have changed. There are many changes in personal circumstances that might prompt a board member to review his/her role. You might move to another area, for example, and consider the traveling time to board meetings too onerous. Or you might take on a new job and find you no longer have enough time to devote to the role. Others will re-think their board role when their family situation changes and they find they want to spend more time at home.
  • You feel a problem has become intractable. Board conflict is not uncommon but is usually fairly easily overcome. Occasionally, however, a board member may find that they have a particular personality clash with another member that is making their role unpleasant, or there is some other major problem that they feel unable to solve. Some will decide to "cut their losses" in the face of sustained dissatisfaction or friction.
  • You feel you have contributed enough. Many board members who are invited onto boards accept the invitation out of a feeling of altruism or a desire to "give back" to their community. There may well come a time when the board member feels s/he has adequately fulfilled this responsibility and would like to withdraw from board service and concentrate on other things.
  • You want to pass the baton. Many long-serving board members eventually feel an obligation to stand aside from their board role and give someone else a chance to contribute to the organisation.

When the board no longer needs you

You may feel that your board no longer requires your services when:

  • Your term has finished. Some boards impose maximum terms of a certain number of years for their members. This is designed to ensure a regular and orderly turnover of members, avoiding burnout and injecting new ideas and "new blood".
  • The role of the board has changed. Boards will often go through different stages of development – changing and adapting, maybe expanding or contracting, in line with changing internal or external circumstances. In such circumstances it is possible that a board will outgrow the need for a certain member's services. For example, a newly formed board with a range of start-up issues may require different skills than one that has been going for some time and is humming along nicely.
  • The needs of the board have changed. Sometimes board members are asked to use their skills and experience to address a particular project or need the board is facing. For example, a board undertaking a project to build new premises might bring in a member with real estate or architectural skills to help out on this particular project (of course they would also be required to carry out a range of other tasks, as all board members are). A person brought onto a board with a specific project in mind may feel they have outgrown their usefulness to the board once the project has been completed.

End or change?

As mentioned earlier, good board members are a precious commodity so resigning should be a last resort.

Before you take the final step, think about what changes you could make to allow you to extend your board service. For example, are there new roles that you could take on or new skills you could develop to combat boredom? Could you work around changes in your personal circumstances? Could you stay on to try to work through frustrations you have with the way the board operates? Have you thought about if the board will really benefit from you leaving?

If you are certain you want to resign, you don't have to stop contributing altogether. Another option for people reconsidering their board role is to look for ways to their transfer skills, knowledge and experience to ensure they are not lost altogether. Some ways you can do this include:

  • Offering your services as a mentor or advisor to new board members to help ease their transition into the role.
  • Offering to make yourself available to answer any questions that may arise, thus ensuring your knowledge about the board and the issues it confronts is not entirely lost when you leave.
  • Offering to take up a position on a sub-committee.
  • Taking a keen (but unobtrusive) interest in the board, attending open meetings from time to time and any other public or fundraising events that may arise.
  • Asking to remain on the distribution list for any newsletters or other publications relating to the board's work and keeping up-to-date with issues of interest.
  • Signing up as a regular donor with the organisation as a demonstration of your ongoing commitment.
  • Looking around for new board opportunities that could fulfill any personal requirements you found lacking in your previous position.

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