Ask The Nonprofit Board Therapist

January 2, 2012       Dennis Miller      

The NonProfit Times has created a new column for readers to ask questions they have regarding issues with their board. Each month a few questions will be selected for a response in this column.

Q. What advice can you provide me on how to increase my board’s effectiveness? –Diane R., Executive Director, California

A. I would recommend the following five ways to transform your nonprofit board:

  • Engage the board as leaders and partners in your vision and goal-setting, encouraging them to ask questions and encourage their ideas. Every board member brings unique experiences and knowledge to the board. As executive director, your job is to develop and learn the art of developing their full potential.
  • Involve the entire board in your evaluation as executive director and respond in a positive tone to all constructive criticism.
  • Make sure board meetings are well organized and are of appropriate time. Respect the time of your volunteers.
  • Be constantly willing to examine and re-examine your organizational performance. Identify your strengths, as well as needed areas of improvement and forcefully address them.
  • Ensure that a comprehensive board performance assessment is conducted at least every two or three years. Good boards evaluate their CEO; great boards evaluate themselves.

Q. What steps should our children’s social service agency take to ensure a future board chair? –Wendy C., President & CEO, New York

A. The best way to ensure successful board leadership is to begin by recruiting members who might demonstrate leadership potential. However, the following are 10 specific actions that can be undertaken to identify and appoint your future board leader:

1. Immediately begin to assess the leadership talent of current board members.

2. Ask your current board chair to begin as soon as possible to identify potential candidates.

3. Institute ongoing board training for all board members.

4. Offer the chair-elect a professional board coach/mentor.

5. Ensure that the work of the board is done efficiently.

6. Find ways to reward and recognize your board members for the job they do.

7. Provide opportunities for all board members to participate in a wide array of committees, task forces and advisory boards.

8. Highlight the organization’s continuous strides for excellence.

9. Recognize former board chairs for their contributions”

10. Recognize and address the reasons that appointing a board chair is difficult.

Q. What do you recommend when a board member becomes disruptive to the entire organization? –John M., Director of Development, Florida

A. This destruction or “disruptive” behavior can become a negative force to the workings of the board and executive staff of the organization. There are many examples of such “disruptive” behavior, but the following are some to illustrate the point:

  • Lack of attendance and participation at meetings;
  • Failure to accept the consensus of the board; and,
  • Consistently fails to live up to the values promoted by the organization.

When these behaviors are exhibited, the board chair (not the chief executive officer) should meet with the board member and discuss the behavior and the negative impact. When discussion or counseling fails to solve the problem, the board member might need to be asked to resign. How does one go about “firing” a board member? One suggestion is to have the board chair along with at least one other member of the governance or executive committee meet again with the board member in question and address the person’s behavior. This discussion should strongly inform the board member about the negative implications of the behavior being addressed and the possibility of requesting the person’s removal from the board.

Another suggestion is to have the board’s governance or nominating committee review the situation surrounding the person and consider not recommending a renewed term. A third suggestion is for the board to participate in an annual performance assessment and discuss the removal mechanisms in the by-laws and, if necessary, vote to change the by-laws to effectively remove such a board member.

It is highly suggested that the board chair inform the individual board member involved of the board’s decision and allow the board member to resign and save face. Though the vast majority of board members volunteer their time, energy and talent to their organizations, they also accept the responsibility and accountability that comes with agreeing to serve on the board. To successfully achieve the organization’s vision and further its mission, every board member needs to work together towards achieving those goals bringing fulfillment and meaning to all who serve in such a wonderful role.

If you would like to have your question considered for a response, please send it to and make reference to this NPT column. Dennis Miller is an expert on nonprofit board governance, leadership development and strategic visioning. He is the author of “A Guide to Achieving New Heights: The Four Pillars of Successful Nonprofit Leadership” and “The Nonprofit Board Therapist: A Guide to Unlocking Your Organization’s True Potential.”