Dear Governance Matters,
What is the function of emeritus trustees in nonprofit institutions? I would like to know the advantages and disadvantages of instituting a program to designate past trustees as emeritus trustees when their regular board service has ended.
For nonprofit organizations, the emeritus designation is usually reserved for past board chairs, although sometimes it is given to esteemed past board members, such as founders, or the founder if s/he is "moving on" from active involvement with the organization. The person is usually (but not always) "of a certain age."
The advantages include:
- keeping important and passionate people involved with your organization;
- moving board members from the active board to a place where they still feel valued by the organization;
- if they are otherwise distinguished, having them on the stationery, and in your annual report and publicity material.
The disadvantages can be the opposite of the advantages!
- The emeritus board member remains involved with the organization. If the idea was to move the person on and out gracefully, emeritus status may not be the answer.
- It sets a precedent. How many emeritus board members might you have over the next 5 or 10 years? Will attrition keep the number under control?
Your board, with help from the executive director, should devise a clear policy regarding the emeritus designation that addresses:
- Who could/will/might be considered for this honor?
- Who decides? The whole board? The Governance Committee? Board Development?
- How many emeritus board members will the organization have at any one time?
- What involvement with the organization is the honoree expected to have?
- Is s/he expected (allowed) to attend meetings or not? Which meetings? Attend events? Donate money? Raise money?
- How and to what extent will the emeritus board member be informed about board activities?
Some of these expectations can be on a "per person" basis, with the policy stating that "the expectations will be mutually agreed between the emeritus board member and the board chair."
I hope this helps! Check out "Emeritus Board How-to" in this section as well.
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