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The Board of Directors plays an important role in the operation and success of your association. While many organizations are excited about bringing on new members, because they introduce innovative changes and new perspectives, there is still a lot to learn from exiting leadership. Because these exiting members have been a part of the day-to-day operation of an association for years, they can offer insights into current membership needs and opportunities new board can focus on. Scheduling board member exit interviews is one of the most powerful tools for associations and knowing what to ask is just as critical.  

What can you learn from exiting board members?

An association volunteer has committed four years of their professional life to serve on your association’s board of directors. They have been involved in the most important decisions that your association has faced over the last four years. 

They have held innumerable conversations with your association’s members. They have interacted with the association staff and have developed professional relationships and even friendships. They have likely interacted with other association leaders, legislators, regulators, and other external groups in their role as a board member.

These exiting board members are a treasure trove of information that you should tap into so that you can improve the work of the board of directors, improve the volunteer experience of your board members, and improve your association. Additionally, having this information accessible can make interviewing potential board members a lot easier as well. 

Related: Essential Interview Questions for Board of Directors Learn More >

Who handles board exit interviews?

An important part of a successful board member exit interview is creating an environment conducive to honest exchange. Board exit interviews should be conducted by the Board president or the CEO, as this ensures that the results of the interviews can be kept confidential, thus eliciting more honest responses. 

Additionally, having the Board president or the CEO conduct the interviews also ensures that the input is reaching the highest levels of the association. 

In some instances, however, associations may do the opposite, and instead, have other board members handle the exit interviews. Why? Because exiting members may be guarded addressing management, while they’ll be more open to their fellow members. Essentially, finding what works best for exiting board members is critical to get as much feedback as possible. 

Whoever handles the exit interview, it’s important that the expectation is set that this will be a learning experience. 

Important questions to ask in an exit interview

As mentioned above, board member exit interviews are a perfect learning opportunity that can help plan the future of an association or non-profit. Having a checklist or at least themes you want to discuss can be a great way to steer the conversation as needed. 

Let the questions frame the conversation but be prepared to have the conversation go in directions that you might not anticipate. Probe the board member on issues so you are confident that you understand what they are trying to convey.

Some potential questions for a board member exit interview include:

General questions

A good way to get the most information possible during an exit interview is to ensure the interviewee is as comfortable as possible. This can be as simple as asking some general questions to get things moving while also getting information for constructive follow-ups. 

  • What did you enjoy most about your board service?
  • What did you enjoy least? What would have made the experience better?
  • What are the three most valuable lessons you have learned about governance matters?

Board governance

In recent years, associations have had to pivot based on global pandemics and hybrid models. As such, ensuring that your board’s governance structure is still effective is essential. 

  • What are the primary attributes that made board meetings successful?
  • How might we improve board meetings?
  • Did you feel that your time was spent on important or valuable issues and tasks?
  • Did you feel that you were able to make a difference?
  • Did you feel that your opinions and contributions were heard and valued?
  • What was the biggest accomplishment during your tenure and how was it achieved?

It’s important that board members feel heard and energized to enact change within an organization. Some other points you may want to ask about are the size of the board and whether or not that size is effective, the level of diversity on the board and how changes are being enacted within the organization. 

Professional development

While board members are responsible for guiding your association, they should also be learning while on the job. Professional development and learning opportunities play an important role in making a term on the board of directors an appealing position within your association. 

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Retaining Talent Learn More >

As such, be sure to find out how your organization did in supporting the development of these members. 

  • Do you feel that you had access to the information and training necessary to be an effective board member and to make decisions at board meetings? If not, how can we improve?
  • Did we use your talents effectively? If not, what steps can we take to ensure we do so with future board members?
  • Would you like to stay involved in the organization moving forward? And if so, how?
  • What could have made your experience better?

Future planning

One of the biggest benefits of a board member exit interview is having information you can bring to your new board. Not only will this help them serve more effectively, but also it can establish some of the priorities they need to address early on. 

  • Based on your experience, what advice about board service would you give to a new member of the board?
  • What do you wish you had known when you joined the board but did not know?
  • Were there any long-term plans discussed with the board that can be accomplished within the next year?
  • What are some of the biggest challenges facing the board?
  • Are there any changes or issues you feel that should be a priority within the next year?
  • Are there any steps that I can take to improve as the association’s Board president or CEO?

Be ready for, and open to, constructive criticism. Every organization and every individual can get better at what they do. Press your exiting board members to be honest and direct with both praise and criticism so that you will know the strengths and weak points of your association and the work you are doing as a Board president or CEO.

How to use exit interview feedback strategically 

The last step of the board member exit interview process is putting everything you’ve learned into action. Nothing would be worse than to go through the motions of exit interviews and not learn from the input. For example, association leadership should be looking for ways to empower their board of directors and ensure the steps they’re taking have the most effect.

Additionally, if there is any feedback or critique of the CEO or leadership, assessing ways to improve can be essential. As association landscapes change, so do the needs of your members. Ensuring that your leadership is aware of the culture and representative of its needs is key. 

As mentioned above, one of the biggest takeaways from a board exit interview is priorities for incoming membership. While these new members should have their own insights, strategies and opportunities to change governance, pointing them towards potential problem areas that already exist can help them get started on the right foot. 

So before they get away, sit down with your exiting board members and get ready to learn.

John Barnes
Post by John Barnes
March 1, 2018
John Barnes is president of Barnes Association Consultants. Barnes Association Consultants helps association boards and CEOs address the wide range of challenges and opportunities facing today’s association leaders. Services include strategic planning, board development and work management, and governance review and improvements. Before launching Barnes Association Consultants, John was CEO at the American Physical Therapy Association.  John worked closely with the APTA Board and Directors and was responsible for the management of the association. Previous to serving as CEO at APTA, John worked at the American Academy of Dermatology as their Deputy Executive Director. John was a leader in all aspects of managing the organization. John has extensive public policy experience through his years serving on Capitol Hill.  John was Chief of Staff to Congressman Greg Ganske of Iowa, where he managed and directed congressional offices in Washington and Iowa. He also served as Special Assistant for Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. John is a member of the American Society of Association Executives, Association Forum, BoardSource and the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce.