Former leaders are some of your most informed—and passionate—members. They often have an extraordinary commitment level to the association and a deep understanding of the issues facing the organization. Because of this, they offer a high level of promise when it comes to spreading the word, gaining support or rallying the troops. Call on them when you can in order to harness their knowledge and enthusiasm.
Be careful how you transition your leaders from current to “past,” however. It’s difficult for some to go from years and years of being “in the know” to being put out to pasture overnight. The abrupt change can lead to feelings of abandonment and ill-will. For others, no longer being in the loop will be a welcome relief. Talk to your presidents as they transition and listen to their concerns. Doing so makes them feel heard and appreciated. Note any special areas of interest that might be helpful for you to know as you plan for the future. And, of course, show gratitude for the time and effort they spent on behalf of the association.
The promise of past presidents can be realized when they are called to help promote necessary change in the organization. Not all will want to, but a group of several willing to go to bat for the organization can start valuable conversations, answer questions and provide inside knowledge to help smooth the way. They’re most effective when they work alongside the current leadership team and are assigned a specific task to be completed within a defined timeframe. Bring them off the bench to use their knowledge and influence when necessary but be sure to make expectations about their involvement clear.