A Question For Aristide J. Collins, Jr.

How Can Institutions Keep Former Trustees Engaged?

By Cristin Toutsi Grigos    //    Volume 30,  Number 4   //    July/August 2022

Aristide J. Collins, Jr., Ed.D., is vice president, chief of staff to the president, and secretary of the university at George Washington University. He manages the implementation of presidential and university-wide initiatives in areas including strategic planning, executive search and transition, government and community engagement, crisis communications, executive leadership development, and organizational assessment and evaluation. As corporate secretary, he has broad responsibility for board operations and organizational governance for both the university and its non-profit Medical Faculty Associates, Inc.

Earlier, he served as vice president for development and alumni relations, providing strategic oversight of the university’s $1 billion “Making History” campaign. Under his leadership, the university recorded the largest fundraising year in its history, $267 million. He previously held advancement roles at Clark Atlanta University; Pacific Oaks College and Children’s School in Pasadena, California; and California State University, Long Beach.

How do you think about the life cycle of engagement with board members?

Serving as a fiduciary is the greatest volunteer role at any non-profit and establishes a special connection to the institution for the individual. For alumni, it is the ultimate opportunity to give back to their alma maters. When trustees complete their board service, however, their positive relationship with the institution can be maintained through a careful and intentional transition process. This can be presented as a repurposing of the former board members’ time and attention, since there are new and different areas where they can add value with their wealth of knowledge and experience.

At GW, many of our former trustees continue to remain involved through serving on advisory councils for our schools and colleges. Additionally, the board and university leaders have utilized task forces and special or strategic committees, often composed of current and former trustees and other relevant constituents, to address critical questions facing the university. It is a win-win approach to increase former trustees’ engagement and take advantage of their expertise.

How do you find out what interests former board members most?

This requires a partnership among board professionals, the president’s office, development and alumni relations, and individual schools, colleges, and sometimes department level programs that interest former board members. When trustees begin to transition, our Office of the Board of Trustees conducts exit interviews. We use the brief discussion to ask questions about their experiences as trustees and inquire about their interests in future volunteer opportunities at the university.

The exit interviews are a great way to coordinate the handoff to other parts of the university. A critical piece is keeping track during the process to make sure there is a seamless transition that enables us to tailor the process to an individual trustee.

What are some other options for continuing to engage board members whose terms are ending?

Our board office serves as a hub to help disseminate information on behalf of the university, including updates from the board chair, the president, or the university in general. We also invite former board members to important events and activities on campus (COVID notwithstanding) and stay in regular contact with former trustees.

As a result of the pandemic, we have learned that virtual meetings can be efficient and effective ways to reach many former board members without requiring travel (or catering). Last year, we hosted such a virtual meeting for our former trustees to update them on the university’s response to the pandemic. They appreciated the opportunity to connect with board and university leadership, as well as one another. At GW, we are fortunate to have wonderful trustees who continue to serve as fantastic ambassadors for the institution once they conclude their service on the board.

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