Saturday, April 2, 2016

Ask the Nonprofit Doc

This month, I'm launching a new periodic feature on my blog: an opportunity for you, my readers out there in the nonprofit world, to pose questions about gnarly issues you are facing.

You can ask me anything about any topic, ranging from board development to fundraising to messaging to time management to dealing with difficult people (with one disclaimer: I'm not a tech geek). And I'll do my best to answer you.

I'm going to start with two questions that came up last month when I did a presentation about board roles and responsibilities for the West Marin Fund, the community foundation serving western Marin County.

1) How do you get rid of unwanted board members? The answer depends on why you want them off the board.
  • Do they never show up? Make sure you have a policy governing board attendance - typically three no-shows and you're out.
  • Do they dominate board discussions? Develop rules of conduct for board meetings that emphasize courtesy, civil discourse, and full participation by everyone. Make sure all board members read and agree to the rules, and make sure the Board President is clearly empowered to enforce them.
  • Have they been there too long? Are they set in their ways and not open to change? Check to see if you have term limits in your by-laws, and stick to them. Or - initiate a discussion about the need for new energy and more diversity on the board. Couple that with the establishment of an emeritus Advisory Board so they can remain engaged and feel that their service is being honored.
  • For the future, establish a board recruitment process with specific vetting procedures. This includes allowing board members to veto someone if for any reason they cannot work with them. And be sure to solicit feedback in regard to any previous board experience. You don't want to inherit somebody else's board member from hell, no matter how skilled or smart they might be. 
2) Is there a tried and true method for finding someone (anyone) to take over as Board President? Short answer (sadly): no. In my experience most organizations have trouble getting someone to commit to being President. But here are a few tips and tools:
  • Write up job descriptions for all of your board officers. Be mindful of creating a sustainable workload for the President, with lots of support from staff and board members. Make sure the one for Vice President clearly states that he/she is being groomed to be the next President.  And -- be sure your officers actually read and sign on these descriptions.
  • As part of your recruitment process, keep an eye out for people who have leadership potential.
  • If you are an Executive Director, make it a priority to develop strong bonds and positive working relationships with all of your board members. Folks will be more likely to become an officer if they know they like working with you.
  • No matter how good your current President is, do not let them stay on and on and on. After awhile, your other board members are just going to assume it will never end. But eventually it will, and then you're really going to have a hard time moving forward.
More questions? Email them to me at I look forward to hearing from you!