Thanking a Retiring Executive Director

There are a million posts out there on how to thank someone who is retiring by buying them a gift. But how meaningful is a plaque or clock after someone has spent decades serving their community as a nonprofit leader? How can you thank someone in a way that really connects to their work and reminds them that they are valued?

Someone I know retired recently and was gifted with a nice chair engraved with their name. Who needs a new chair in their 70s? Especially one that has no padding! It sits in a corner of their house, unused. In our current culture, so many people are looking for ways to reduce our possessions. In addition, someone who is retiring is often trying to downsize.

Here are some alternative ideas that would bring a smile to their face. At the same time, these thoughtful gifts will remind them of just how much they have done:

  • A video that thanks them for all the work they have done. You could interview staff, clients, board members, community leaders, and others and put them together with photos of the work. Make sure they have access to the video once they leave.
  • A scrapbook of thank you notes from staff, clients, and board members, plus photos from their time at the organization
  • A donation in their name to the organization or another that is close to their heart. When I left my executive director position, they planned to plant a tree in my honor.

I know that everyone is different and will appreciate different things. Long ago, I was given a trophy as thanks for volunteering. I thought it was ugly and useless and finally threw it out. Recently, I talked to a friend who received one at the same time and she displays hers in her office. Some people will be excited about a retirement party, others hate the idea. Talk with them and their staff to get a sense of what they would like.

What additional ideas do you have? Add them in the comments below.

Need help navigating the process of a departing executive director? Check out my article on Departure-Defined Succession Planning to know what to do and not do as you proceed.

Leave a Comment