This nonprofit should be great, but its board is a dud. What can I do to fix it?

Advice on how to make the world better.
May 13 2009 7:01 AM

Board of Turkeys

This nonprofit should be great, but its board is a dud. What can I do to fix it?

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com and Patty and Sandy will try to answer it.

What's the best way to pep up a laggard board?
What's the best way to pep up a laggard board?

Dear Patty and Sandy,

I am on a pro-bono consulting project with a local nonprofit. Unfortunately, I'm simply not sure this organization can make it. There's a gung-ho executive director but a total turkey of a board. I attempted to make the case—diplomatically—that board members need to formalize their commitment, or they are on a path to obsolescence. It didn't work.

Do you have a view on whether a dud board can be rehabilitated? How scary should I be with these deadbeats to prompt some action?

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—Lisa

Sandy:

My answer: pretty scary.

My mom is the real expert on this, but even I know that a committed, high-functioning board is critical to the success of a nonprofit. Don't worry about offending the board. Worry about letting down the staff, the donors, and most importantly, the clients who rely on the organization.

I know from my own experience that nonprofit boards often give executive directors more angst than support. That trickles down to influence the rest of the organization. In a recent CompassPoint Study, only one-third of nonprofit executives said that their staffs see the board as engaged leaders. And, unsurprisingly, nonprofit execs who are unhappy with their boards are more than twice as likely to be planning their departures than those who feel supported. It doesn't sound as if this organization can afford to lose its executive director, so forego the diplomacy and let them know what they're risking. It's a lot harder to rebuild an organization than a board.

Patty: