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Dead Wood: Moving On

MY LAST POST CONCENTRATED ON SETTING the table for addressing the under-performing or non-performing board member.  At any given time, most boards have one or two members who struggle with engagement -- it's a natural part of the ebb and flow of board work -- but if it's a chronic predicament for your board, don't be content to look the other way.  In the long run, it's not helpful to the individual or the organization to do so. 

As Anna Tegen noted in her post here,  board members run out of steam or lose focus.  In Anna's case, she's taking the initiative to find ways to re-engage.  For other, not so self-motivated people, their fate will be in the hands of their board peers to figure what's going on and what to do about it.

The Options:  Stay, Shift, Off

Of course you always have the option of doing nothing.  But is that really an option?

Once you've had "the conversation", you've got several ways to go depending on its outcome:

board member is under a particular burden that is taking his/her focus off the organization:  you can work with him/her to temporarily relieve assignments and attendance expectations until life settles down; a temporary (six months or less) leave of absence from the board may also be an option; or the board member shifts into some other voluntary capacity or steps down all together.

board member has lost interest in board work:  this requires an examination in both directions -- is the work truly uninteresting or has the board member discovered it's not his/her cup of tea?  The options here are many, I think.  It might be time for the full board to re-engage with the mission (the reason everyone's around the table in the first place) and figure out ways to focus on making mission impact the top priority.  

As Anna is doing, it might be useful to get active in a more hands-on way.  Board work is not the only way to participate in an organization.  Shifting from the board to another volunteer capacity might be just the ticket for a person who loves the mission, but finds board work unrewarding.

board member wasn't the right choice from the get-go:  the fit just isn't there; the relationship never clicked.  Cut your losses, call it a day and don't drag it out.

Your 10-Point Action Plan for Removing Dead Wood

1.  Write a board mission statement

2.  Select a short list of criteria for what makes a good board member for your organization

3.  Write a board job description

4.  Build a board discussion around 1-3.
5.  Seek board approval for 1-3.

6.  Evaluate participation and effectiveness of current board members using 1-3.

7.  Make your list of under-performing/non-performing board members.

8.  Schedule and follow-through on one-on-one conversations with everyone on the list.

9.  Develop a course of action based on the conversation, using some or all of the above options....or options you create.

10.  Use items 1-3 to identify and recruit new talent!

Photo: harvesting dead wood from robertcmccabe


Grant Gopher said…
Excellent post, and I appreciate the thought process when dealing with the board members. I'd love to know your thoughts on the flip side too. What if board members are made completely ineffective due to a resistant Exec. Director?

I've sat on the board of a nonprofit founded by the Exec. Director. Nothing the board members did was 'good enough'. Every idea we had 'wouldn't work'. It was a no-win, and I ultimately left the board.

Perhaps if there is dead wood on a board, a quick look in the mirror beforehand wouldn't hurt :)
Unknown said…

This is great advice, and I appreciate the options you provide. All boards would be more effective if they adopted your 10 point plan and reviewed the mission statement for the board every few years.

I'm conducting a board orientation for a national environmental organization on Friday, and your blog is sparking lots of ideas. Thank you!
Grant --

Many thanks for your comment. I can conjure up one or two situations where the director seemed to have the board by the short hairs. It does seem to be a common situation with founding directors, usually because they've chosen the initial board and like to keep control. I'm not surprised you left.

You know as well as I that it's the board of directors that oversees the director, not the other way around. In the case of a resistant Executive Director, I think it's the responsibility of the HR or Personnel Committee to make sure annual reviews are conducted and that these issues are addressed. Harder to do with a founder-director, I admit.

One arts organization I worked with found themselves in this situation and did hold out the possibility of "firing" if the director didn't change her ways. It worked...but I wonder for how long?

This comment has been removed by the author.
Hi, Leyna --

I'm so glad you like the 10-point plan! Use it in good health!!


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