“Jake” was eager to get involved with his favorite nonprofit’s outreach program, so he jumped at the invitation to become a board member. Once on the board, it became apparent that he had his own agenda: he did not understand the organizational mission and goals, wasn’t prepared at board meetings, and became combative when other directors disagreed with him.
Jake was not a good board member, and something had to be done.
It’s an unfortunate situation to find yourself on a board with a troublesome, obstructive person. Often, organizations invite these good-hearted people onto boards because they have community connections, free time, or are simply passionate about the organizational mission. Many don’t realize that board service is a big job which requires an understanding of legal and governance responsibilities, as well as some leadership skills.
Not every volunteer is a good fit for a nonprofit board of directors, and it can be difficult for these individuals to recognize their own shortcomings. In the article, “12 Reasons Why You Should Gracefully Resign from a Nonprofit Board”, Gene Takagi writes, “failure to meet your duties may be holding back the organization from better advancing its charitable mission and serving its intended beneficiaries.” Jake clearly did not understand his role, and his presence was reducing organizational efficiency.
To reduce the risk of inviting a person to serve on your board who doesn’t understand their role, provide them with a clear job description prior to their start date. This reduces the chances that they will be surprised about time, energy, and resource expectations. You can email Spokes for a board of director job template.
A board needs to operate as a whole unit to accomplish its very important work. When one member shirks their duties, the entire board suffers. There are a few ways to work through board member challenges.
- Meet 1-1
If you have a “Jake” who keeps the board in disarray, the board chair, and another executive committee member can use conflict resolution techniques to have a personal conversation with the member to try to understand and alleviate the issues.
- Use term limits
If personal life challenges or volunteering fatigue are affecting a board member, board service term limits provide a non-confrontational way to ease ineffective or challenging directors off the board.
- Look to your bylaws
Your bylaws should clearly state reasons to remove a board member, such as unexcused absences, unruly behavior, or conflicts of interest. If a director can’t accomplish their duties due to a temporary problem, a short-term leave of absence might be a solution. However, if this is disruptive to board business or causes quorum issues, it might be best to ask the person to resign.
Nonprofit organizations need strong board leadership so organizations can provide crucial services for our community. Spokes members who are eager to learn about board service responsibilities can log in on Spokes website to watch the Best Practices in Nonprofit Management video series. We recommend watching them during board meetings for full participation. These short, accessible videos will ensure that your organization is meeting all federal compliance requirements, achieving the highest standards of responsible governance and operating with full accountability to your donors, clients, and employees.