Tag Archives: recommit board members

The Dangers of Delays in Board Decision Making

Delays in Board Decision Making

Have you ever been a part of a nonprofit board that has been paralyzed and not able to make decisions? It can be incredibly frustrating as a volunteer and have serious repercussions for those who rely on these organizations. People, animals, and environments end up not getting the services they need. Organizations are often stuck or, in some cases, even shut down because of indecision. There are too many nonprofit boards that have the same discussion month after month because people think slow equals thoughtful.

There are ways for you to be thoughtful and move an agenda forward.

By helping your nonprofit make decisions, you will create impact, drive progress, and achieve your mission. Delays in board decision making prove that indecision is a decision, too.

Standing still does not help in many situations – on or off a board. Countless times we, as nonprofit consultants, have heard about the “almosts.” The almost campaign that was delayed for 10+ years before we were called in (causing additional costs in delayed maintenance or a larger deficit). The almost parking lot next door that wasn’t purchased and is now a medical facility instead of a building extension. The almost amazing nonprofit that closed because the leadership could never find consensus about how to shift in the face of external pressures.

Not surprisingly, we prefer to help celebrate the opening of a new building, witness the new programming that the additional endowment supports, and see people leave an upbeat board meeting on time feeling satisfied for all they have helped achieve.

The biggest concern with delays in board decision making

As soon as we suggest putting a time limit on board conversations we hear, “No way! It limits discussion,” or, “Everyone won’t be heard.” It’s true that not everyone will have a chance to talk for as long as they would like at the board meeting. But many would say that is not always a bad thing.

When everyone feels they can talk as long as they would like, there is often repetition. And people stop paying as much attention when they think they have heard it before and know that there are still hours more of the same conversation. Our attention spans have only become shorter and board leaders need to address this – while still being respectful and having full conversations. It is a balance – but one worth striving for.

What’s the solution?

In-depth discussions can be held in committee meetings. Recommendations and highlights of the conversation can be presented to start the conversation at the board level. While it sounds scary to some, shorter discussions are not a bad thing once you get used to how it works. Interested board members can go to the committee meeting. Or, if they choose not to, they can accept the time limits. The first couple of times may not go smoothly., Change is hard. Over time you will have more effective discussions that allow you to move forward with decisions.

Note: You should have some flexibility when considering a delay in board decision making. Extending the discussion by 15 or 30 minutes may occasionally be required to achieve consensus on a tough topic. And that should not be seen as a defeat. The important element is to have a positive experience and to end with a decision or vote.

Looking for language to help you move forward? Check out our LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram pages next week for 5 days and 5 suggestions.

Looking for help with your board? Schedule a complementary consultation.

Does Losing a Board Member Mean Losing Their Donation?

Last month I wrote about what to do with an under-performing board member. The follow up question that we often hear is “Does losing a board member mean losing their donation?” That depends on why you are losing a board member. The reasons may include because the board member: 

  • stopped showing up to meetings but still tries to contribute via email. 
  • pops in from time to time and tries to be super helpful (read: has thoughts on all the work that every other person has done) and then isn’t seen for a couple of months. And then repeats the cycle. 
  • takes on responsibilities but then never follows through with anything. 
  • rarely responds to anything you send and often leaves email unopened. 
  • is toxic but has a lot of money.  

The first question I would have is, do you want to save the relationship? How much time and energy are you spending on this person? And, what else could you be doing to replace the departing board member’s donation?  

If they answer is that you still value what they offer, be prepared to put in work and be creative.  

Full disclosure: over time their funding may shift as they become involved in another organization that looks good on LinkedIn. Sorry if that is too cynical but we all know those board members.  

Does losing a board member mean losing their donation? There can be any number of ways to retain the relationship, but they all boil down to one point: Keep them engaged.  


  1. Are they willing to sit down and speak with you or the board president? You could ask how they would like to be involved if they don’t have the time or the focus right now. Try to gauge whether they are looking for a once-a-year activity, once a month activity, or are just happy to be listed as a prominent donor or trustee.   
  1. Would they be willing to serve on a committee instead of the board? For example, it could be a committee that meets infrequently. Remember, the idea is to keep them engaged.  
  1. Survey the entire board, which is always a good idea on an annual basis. . The underperforming board member may not be the only person who is questioning the relationship with your organization. And asking advice is always a good way to deepen a connection. Include questions like: 
    • What do you wish you knew about the board before you joined? 
    • Has your board experience improved, stayed the same, or deteriorated over the past 3 years? 
    • Would you be willing to mentor someone new on the board? Why or why not?  
    • Would you encourage a friend to join the board? Why or why not? 
  1. Offer board training. It may sound counter-intuitive to ask this person to spend more time with you, but it may be that they are bored with what they are doing. An educational opportunity might excite, and reengage, them. 
  1. Hire a consultant to assess your board and your organization. Is the underperforming board member the problem? Could it be the board/board president, a staff member, the direction of the nonprofit, pressure from the community to do more, or some other reason your board has become an uncomfortable place to be. And getting rid of the one person may not solve your problems. 

If it is time to strengthen your board, email me to talk about how MJA can help.  

What Do You Do With An Under-performing Board Member?

under-performing board member from Kolleen Gladden @unsplash

Do you have board members who don’t show up to meetings? Or board members who come to meetings but spend the time on their phone? Maybe they show up but don’t contribute in any substantive way. What do you do with under-performing board members?

Even if they started as amazing volunteers, they may be tired and are no longer helping your organization.

We hear this story a lot. No one wants to “fire” anyone. Even an under-performing board member. It is an uncomfortable conversation. But, if you know it must happen, here are some suggestions to make it a bit easier.

  1. Institute board policies that spell out expectations. Make everything clear, from meeting attendance to term limits, committee participation to fundraising and personal donation expectations.
  2. Be creative with the transition. Is there a different role that might excite them? If you think you can still engage them to help. Do they want to take on a different volunteer role or Advisory Board Member position?
  3. Be direct. “We are creating a governance structure that will include term limits, committee participation, and an attendance policy. I know you are busy this year, do you think you can attend X meetings this year?” “We know you have been a huge supporter of our organization for many years, and we hope that continues for many years to come. But we are looking to have every board member make this one of their top priorities in terms of current volunteering and financial commitments. Is this something you can do?”  “We have noticed that your participation is not what it used to be. While we would appreciate all that you have done, I have to ask, do you still want to be on the board?”
  4. Eliminate “give OR get” from your language. That is a dated mindset that does not work in current nonprofit organizations. Many major donors and grant organizations will ask about board participation. Not every board member can give at the same level, but every single one can give. And ideally it will be one of their top three donations this year. (Read more about this here)
  5. Give it time, but not too much. You want to give board members warning about the changes. But you do not have to give them years. If you are reading this far into this article than you have a problem that needs to be dealt with now. Start having the conversations about the changes. Some of these folks might step down realizing they are not as committed as they once were. If not, then you have a process you can follow if they don’t show up at meetings or donate.

Obviously, you want to try to save the connection, even with an under-performing board member. This person might have been a loyal supporter, donor, and/or advocate. They may have given great counsel over the years. Or brought fresh ideas. And it is always hard to move on from a long-standing relationship.

Here is one last tip: Always have the end in mind when you start these conversations. Know what you can offer to stay in their hearts and minds. And if you run out of ideas, ask them. They may not be able to articulate exactly what they want. But, then again, maybe they will.

Want to know more? Consider reading the follow up article, Does Losing a Board Member mean Losing the Donation?

Dealing With Disruptive Board Member(s)

The Disruptive Board Member EffectTwo organizations with which we have been working have very similar concerns.  At each nonprofit, there is at least one board member who is disruptive to meetings. And both have leadership that want that to change.

The Disruptive Board Member(s)

Based on a board member’s personal approach—often rooted in personality—there is at least one person who:

  • Likes to point out problems but has no time or willingness to help with solutions
  • Insists that their solutions are the only way to find a successful path forward
  • Cannot get past a specific issue resolved in a way they did not support so that now they are having trouble supporting anything
  • Tries to dominate the meeting (or specific agenda items)
  • Believes the cohort they represent needs more attention or resources
  • Is invested and wants to understand the details of decisions but doesn’t have enough time to participate in committee work. (Which often translates into someone who wants to revisit every committee recommendation in a deep dive at board meetings)

How does the rest of the board feel?

The result is that one bad apple can upset the cart. Or, in this case make the board meeting uncomfortable for everyone.

Not everyone is going to raise their hand and tell you they don’t enjoy volunteering for your nonprofit. Instead, they may step off the board at the first opportunity, make less of an effort to be at meetings and make your nonprofit less of a priority in their lives. And once a volunteer has shifted focus to other nonprofits or life-priorities, it’s not easy to bring them back.

What can be done?

If this has been going on for some time, one meeting will not change how everyone feels. Like stewardship or altering a donor’s perception of your organization, it will take consistent proof that change is happening. But you can start showing your intentions by:

  • Moving the agenda along. Keep time and limit conversations to predetermined timeframes. There will be some conversations that need to be extended, but not every conversation falls into this category. You probably already know who a good timekeeper will be. Asking that person for help will show that you understand the strengths and weaknesses of individual board members and you are trying to make change.
  • Having a private one-on-one conversation, outside of the board meeting, can help the person(s) in question feel heard.
    • Express to the board member that, to you, it feels as if they want a deeper understanding of the development/finance/program decisions. If this is true, suggest they join the committee where the discussions can go deeper on certain issues- when they have an hour or more to consider the issue. If they cannot/will not join the committee – ask them for suggestions as to how they can participate without diminishing the committee’s work prior to the meeting.
    • Explaining that as board-chair you are having trouble getting through the agenda in a timely way – and ask if they have suggestions. Be open to the responses. It may be that many members want fewer agenda items with deeper discussion or that allowing a deeper dive on one pre-determined issue would feel more meaningful.
    • Repair damage by making it less personal. We can assume that everyone is at the board table because they care, but just as in any for-profit business, decisions often have to be made for the good of the organization and not necessarily the good of the individual board members. We all have to get past our personal issues and focus on the larger organizational goals.
  • Training sessions reminding board members of:
    • Their responsibilities to the nonprofit
    • The value of introverts. Allowing the loudest board members to have the most impact is dismissing the importance of an introvert’s value to your board.
    • Basic skills that when absent can derail board meetings. (Think about how many people at the table understand how to read a P&L vs. asking questions that are obvious to those in the know)
  • Holding a retreat to regain consensus. Sometimes, people have to be reminded of the positive energy that can happen within the group. Using ice breakers, small group exercises that acknowledge different learning styles (pictures help some people think outside of the box and oral stories help others.

And, of course, if you would like help with your specific board’s governance issue or your nonprofit’s next retreat, email me by clicking here.

Achieve Your Vision With A Strategic Planning Process

Prevent Insanity with Strategic Planning ProcessIn the past week, I have spoken with two organizations who have realized they need a new strategy to accomplish their vision.  They both have a clear understanding of what they want to achieve – growth in one case and an increased endowment to supplement annual spending in the other. But, each came to understand that keeping their current ways of doing business would not allow for growth and fundraising, respectively.

They were wise coming to this conclusion. If you want to dramatically increase fundraising, shift programming priorities or improve board governance issues it will require you to do something drastically different. Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is a perfect example of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity.

Speaking to various board members at each of these organizations, similarities become apparent. They both know:

  • they need a major shift in mindset to achieve their vision(s)
  • their current fundraising strategy will not suffice
  • the board has to be united in determining how to get to their goal

That is where the strategic planning process comes in.

During a strategic planning process you can:

  • Understand organizational priorities. While some people may want to focus on additional programming and others want to add staff. Either way, it’s essential for everyone to look at how their personal priorities fit into the larger picture.
  • Help your board and staff find a cohesive path forward. You know those lively conversations (read: disagreements) are important to have, but you need to be able to find common ground to move forward. Strategic planning can help ensure everyone feels heard.
  • Recommit board members. Sometimes, board members need to be reminded of why they joined this board. Of course, you don’t want to create a strategic planning process just for this purpose, but it is a nice side effect.
  • Look at your growth strategy. Are you planning on staying the same size in the next few years? If not, do you want to be larger or smaller? Do you want to expand your organization’s reach within your current community or expand to a second location? Is your decision based on a strategic decision or a financial one?
  • Strategic planning is not “one and done.” Strategic planning is something that needs to be revisited on a regular basis for most nonprofits. Whether it is on a three-year, five-year or even ten-year cycle, don’t ignore the importance of what this process. As new board members cycle on and off and staff members turnover, priorities subtly shift with each change. It’s smart to have a check in from time to time to make sure everyone is on board with it.

If you would like to speak with us about initiating a strategic planning process, email me today.

If you want to make change with a Mersky, Jaffe & Associate Strategic Plan click here