It’s crazy, isn’t it? An organization spends a ton of time and energy getting a board member oriented, trained, up to speed, motivated, and bought-in. Then they retire and the relationship ends. I see it happen all the time.
Have you ever fired a board member?By
I read a recent article in the online New York Times Dealbook about Lance Armstrong and was reminded that the flipside of finding new board members who’ll participate in the fundraising of the organization is the removal of board members who won’t or don’t measure up in other ways.
“His recent resignation from the board of the Livestrong charity, which he founded, is a valuable reminder that boards should have in place a protocol dealing with “fitness to serve” issues for officers and directors.”
The first step, of course, is figuring out whether you have a problem or not. Is your board fit? Do you measure their fitness at regular intervals? Do you evaluate individual board member performance? You should. There are plenty of measuring tools and surveys out there: just Google it. One of my favorites is from Board Source.
Their self-assessment will take you through the main functions of the board:
- Funding and Public Image
- Board Composition
- Program Oversight
- Financial Oversight
- CEO Oversight
- Board Structure
The second step is to have policies and procedures in place to deal with under- or non-performing board members. Of course, just having the policies and procedures in place doesn’t work if you don’t follow through and actually hold board members accountable for their performance.
I’m always surprised to find organizations that don’t have things like this in place. Term limits, removal procedures, triggering events, consequences and so on. And if the board does have them, they often aren’t enforced. One of the most common excuses I hear is that “you can’t fire a volunteer”. Actually, I think that’s BS. Of course you can fire a volunteer. Done respectfully and with genuine care, it can demonstrate the board’s commitment to the mission and future of the organization.
The “fitness” of your board is a reflection of the health of your entire organization. Do you know how fit they are? Do you enforce board expectations and requirements?
photo credit: Sean MacEntee via photopin cc
I think it’s on nonprofit staff and current board members to clearly set expectations. Don’t sugar coat the board position and what it entails. I like David’s point about policies and reviewing them annually.What I want to know is, have any of you ever lost susbstantial support over an ugly situation with a board member? In my experience, the people who are under-performing in the board room usually aren’t performing with their wallets either.
I have had to deal with this issue a couple of times. I have been pleasantly surprised (so far) that the individuals were wanting to step down themselves but did not know how to broach the subject. They knew they were underperforming but did not want to quit either. Fortunately, I have had not had deal with extreme conflict with this issue. I believe this is a key issue to discuss with the board officers to make sure they are on the same page. Policies are key. These should be reviewed annually so the board understands its responsibilities.
I too am surprised at how often boards don’t have basics in place. Especially terms of office. To me, that’s a no-brainer. It makes it easier to say farewell to an under-performing board member, plus it assures that you’re always bringing in fresh ideas and broadening your circle of support. Sure, some folks would like to stay on forever. But that’s not generally healthy for the organization. So the next thing to think about is ways to keep former board members engaged.