Monday, July 2, 2012

The Chairman's Gift

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We have a tradition in our association of giving a gift to our outgoing Chairman of the Board. That's not terribly unique, I know. Most associations recognize the contributions of their outgoing chair some way. But over time, we have evolved a special approach to this tradition, one that is based not on what the association values, but what is valued by the individual. It takes more time and sometimes costs more money, but I think it's worth it.

With our fiscal year drawing to a close, we just went through this gift-giving ritual again at our year-end strategic retreat. At the closing dinner, we first offered token gifts of appreciation to those who were rotating completely off the board. Then our outgoing chair passed the ceremonial gavel to his successor. And then it was time to make the gift presentation to the outgoing chair.

The process that led up to that moment was about a month in the making. I had reached out to his spouse to enlist her help. "We want to recognize his contributions to the organization," I told her, which had been significant. "But we don't want to give him a simple plaque or even yet-another Mont Blanc pen. We want to get him something he will truly remember. Something he will appreciate just as much as we appreciated his service as chair."

She immediately accepted the challenge. We brainstormed, tossed a few ideas back and forth, brought the incoming chairman in on the conspiracy, and eventually settled on an item that both fit our budget and which would surprise and delight our chair. It wasn't even a thing. It was an experience. Something he had always wanted to do, but had never had the time or the ability to do so.

What it was is not important for the purposes of this blog post. What is important is the look on our chair's face was the gift was presented to him--when he opened the token we had gift-wrapped and chosen to represent the experience that was in store for him, and when he was told what opportunity we had made possible. He was surprised. He was delighted. He was, I think, more than anything else, touched that we had taken the time to get him something unique, to think of him as an individual and not just as another in a long line of association chairs.

But that wasn't the best part. The best part was the message it delivered to everyone else at the retreat. The other folks sitting around the long banquet table, some of whom have been part of the association leadership for years and others who are attending their first event. Folks who may not have known what they were getting themselves into when they accepted the invitation to attend or to join the Board of Directors. Folks who had sat solidly in "listen-only mode" for the strategic discussions we had just had for the past day and a half. To those people, most of all, this chairman's gift, and the manner in which it was given and received, demonstrated more than anything else we could have done that this association is a family, and that we care about each other in ways that go beyond financial reports, strategic objectives, and key performance indicators.

And that, I think, is worth the extra time and expense we pour into our chairman gifts.


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