Emeritus Board Members

The Why, The Art, The How

Time for a quiz. Emeritus means:

  1. A way to get “dead wood” out the door without creating an enormous stink
  2. A way to honor a founder who no longer can or wants to be involved in the organization he or she created
  3. A way to keep big money people giving without having to listen to their opinions
  4. Retired or honorably discharged from active professional duty, but retaining the title of one's office or position

Because I had a crush on my high school Latin teacher and didn’t pay attention, I had to look up the definition, which is the fourth definition. However, for our purposes, both definitions two and four apply.

Conferring the honor of Emeritus board member should be a rare event. Here are some of the things to consider when making this decision:

  • Would this organization have existed without this person?
  • Has this individual created a legacy that will last for years or even decades?
  • Is this someone whose contribution is so great, you hope that others will aspire to meet the standard created?

We don’t use stationary much anymore, so declaring someone an Emeritus Member on your paper goods doesn’t mean much. However, it is a major opportunity for creating buzz. If the board member is able, video tape his or her thoughts, feelings and vision for your organization for your website. Have a major party that is either a fundraising, cultivation or stewardship event. Be sure to invite your newly inducted Emeritus member’s family. If you have to pay a few hundred dollars to bring children in town, make it happen. Invite colleagues, friends and significant people in your member’s life such as Pastor, Rabbi, other community leaders he or she has influenced or been influenced by.

The acid test: This is a “go big or go home” situation. If no one cares enough to really go all out for this person, you should probably find another kind of board purgatory for your member than this exalted position.

Example: I was on a plane going to the BoardSource meeting a number of years ago and sat next to a very tall, elegant older man who was using a cane. When I started to read my BoardSource program, he said that he was also attending the meeting. He told me about his organization. He had grown up in an orphanage and was treated extremely well. He worked hard, had great mentors and became a successful, hard working businessman.  He was rewarded with a wonderful family and apparently, a ton of money. He went back to serve on the board of the orphanage, which had transformed through the years into a home for severely, disturbed children. He told me that he now had Parkinson’s Disease and was afraid that his health would become a problem. Board and staff all wanted to stay on the board. He agreed with one caveat. He submitted his resignation to his best friend, who also served on the board with the instruction that when his friend believed that he was no longer had the capacity to serve the children, his friend was to submit his resignation, have a party, raise a bunch of money and show him the door. He said he would then have emeritus status. This is the kind of visionary, selfless leader who should receive such an honor.

Here is a formal description of the Emeritus Status that includes verbage that can be used for your by-laws from Michael Rea, Director of Development & Community Relations  for Rainbow Village in St. Louis:

Definition: There shall be a category of Board member known as a Board Member Emeritus who is nominated and elected by the Board of Directors. Board members emeritus shall be selected from those board members who have served on the Board of Directors with distinction and excellence. Emeritus members shall serve three (3) year renewable terms for as long as they remain active in the work of Rainbow Village, and may end their term at any time. Emeritus member candidates will have served the board with distinction and considered deserving of same for outstanding service.

A board member emeritus shall be entitled to receive all written notices and information which are provided to the Board of Directors, to attend all Board of Directors meetings, to participate in meetings of the committees in which they serve, and encouraged to attend all other events conducted by Rainbow Village. A Board member emeritus shall not be subject to any attendance policy, counted in determining if a quorum is present at a meeting, entitled to hold office, or entitled to vote at any board meeting.

Eligibility: In order to be considered for designation as a board member emeritus, a person must be a current or former member of the Rainbow Village Board of Directors who:

  1. Has served the Rainbow Village Board of Directors with distinction
  2. Held an important leadership role, and made or continues to make significant contributions
  3. Engaged in major volunteer or advocacy activities in his or her service on the board
  4. Completed the term(s) for which he or she was appointed
  5. Participates in one (1) or more Rainbow Village activities (e.g., events, volunteerism, fund-raising, government relations, networking, etc.)

Election: Annually, with the recommendation of the board nominating committee, the Executive Committee of the board will consider potential candidates and may nominate one (1) or more individuals for a board emeritus position. The Executive Committee will present the nomination(s) along with supporting statements to the Rainbow Village Board of Directors for its consideration. A simple majority vote of directors present at a meeting at which a quorum is present is sufficient to approve an appointment.

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