You’re likely a nonprofit leader, an executive director, maybe a board chair. At minimum, you’re probably on the board. You’ve helped to lead your agency for a long time and things have gone well, other than the periodic crisis you’ve had to manage through.
All of your current board members have been hand-picked — either by you or a board development committee, comprised of people you trust. In your heart you strongly believe each director is serving on the board because they have a burning passion for your agency’s mission. In most cases, they do. So you lead the agency boldly and attempt to take it to levels it has never seen.
But recently, you’ve started experiencing some friction among board members. The problems just seem to be popping up where peace once reigned. Problems you could not have anticipated. The very board members you thought you knew well and had prepared for this next growth phase are not keeping up with you. Rather than supporting your leadership, they always seem to be a step behind, less committed, less ready to move forward. They come to meeting unprepared and are seemingly out of touch with things. They all to often drop the ball and fail to deliver on their commitments. What’s all this about?
As long as each director follows your lead and meets his or her responsibilities and commitments all is well but when some directors’ performances repeatedly fall short of expectations you have to stop and take note. Something is very wrong.
Could it be your primary assumptions about some board members is wrong? Maybe some directors are not as “on board” as you thought. There are many reasons why nonprofit board members’ performances fall short and have caught you completely by surprise. But here are 8 of the most common.
8 Things About Your Board You Need to Know
- A few directors are serving just to enhance their resume, as a way to look good in the community. Maybe they care more about their career, their personal agenda, and less so the mission of your organization.
- Maybe their employer felt they could gain valuable management or leadership experience by serving on your board. They joined your board but after a period of time they find they really don’t enjoy serving and are doing so only grudgingly.
- You assumed they knew all about your organization, how it works, what needs to be done, etc. but maybe they really don’t. Is your new board member orientation program as effective as you think it is?
- You think they know exactly what their role is on the board and what is expected of them as a director, but they don’t act that way. Have you ever sat down with each director individually to explain to them your expectations?
- Maybe there are some significant unresolved issues or conflict going on between various board members that have until now gone undetected. How can you determine if such friction exists on your board and then resolve it?
- Any chance it’s you or your leadership style? Have you rubbed someone the wrong way recently?
- Think back to recent board or committee meetings. Were any inflammatory or controversial topics discussed? Maybe someone is still sore about how the discussion went or feels hurt by what they feel was a personal accusation. Or, maybe someone’s pet project or program was dropped and so they have partially tuned out all their board duties.
- Sometimes, long-serving board members have a way of turning off newer members by belittling them or squelching their ideas with phrases like…”we never do things that way”…do you have a two-party board of directors?