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?