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BOARDS AND COMMITTEES

They are volunteers, too!
Look here for information and the latest techniques to develop your board or committee. The purpose is to help those who work or serve on nonprofit boards of directors or committees.

~June 2010~


THE TROUBLESOME BOARD MEMBER

Nonprofits are different, no two are alike, even when they are affiliates of large national or international organizations.  A local Red Cross board in Iowa is different from one in Montana.  Hence, a definition of troublesome, as in “difficult board member,” is impossible.  There are, however, some strategies to address the issue of a troublesome board member to help get the governing team back on track.

What is the problem? 

  • Is every interaction with the person a problem?
  • Is the dissenter raising legitimate issues?
  • Might the person be right and everyone else wrong?
  • Can the problem be articulated to everyone’s satisfaction?
  • Make sure the troublesome person is troublesome to others directly impacted by the behavior.
  • Do not discuss the problem with anyone other than those directly impacted by the problem.

Who can help solve the problem?

  • The board chair should remain neutral.
  • The board chair should seek to utilize the skills of the individuals on the board.
  • Get other board members to act in an informal manner to help solve the problem and be a mentor to the troublesome board member.  Maybe he/she does not understand the “culture.”
  • Staff and/or other board members need to be encouraged to speak up if a board member is bypassing the organizational structure for problem solving.
  • Staff need to report attempts by board members to interfere in day-to-day operations.
  • The board chair needs to keep all members operating as a team.  Misinformation spread by a rogue board member can undermine the best of boards.
  • Hire an outside facilitator to explore the issues and aid with solutions.  He/she is objective, no one else is.

What are strategies to improve the situation?

  • Mentor the troublesome volunteer to understand how the board and staff operate.
  • Provide all board members in-depth education/information on the issue at hand.  Defuse criticism with facts.
  • Provide direct feedback on why behavior is troublesome in a one-to-one setting.  Carefully select the person who does this.  It should never be the CEO or other staff member.  In all voluntary groups it should be a member of the executive committee.
  • If the person has gone public with the issue, provide factual information to stakeholder groups, including the media.  Hit it head on with the facts, presented firmly, with honesty, transparency and confidence.
  • Isolate the individual causing the trouble (as by-laws allow).  This means building support among other board members and senior paid staff.

Can the troublesome volunteer be removed from the board?

  • This is the last and least desirable choice.
  • Check with the volunteer who may be so unhappy that they would opt to resign their position.
  • Check by-laws for the criteria for removing a board member.
  • Follow the by-laws carefully if this is the choice.  It could prevent a law suit.

Can I do anything to prevent someone becoming a troublesome volunteer?

  • All new volunteer board members must attend orientation and training for being a board member.
  • Have a sub-committee of the board create a code of conduct for board members.  Display it widely, including during meetings.
  • Communicate with all new members about the culture of this particular board.  Be specific about how work is accomplished and what is considered inappropriate or troublesome behavior.
  • Include in training information on the types of issues the board is likely to confront, especially those that are divisive. 
  • Engage the board in developing a peer review evaluation process, where members evaluate the overall work of the board, as well as each other.
  • When a board member is nominated to the board share with them a Board participation agreement.  This is to be signed at the first meeting, following the annual meeting.  (If that is when members are elected.)  For a sample agreement form click here

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