Sometimes board members do not understand or realize the responsibilities that come with their governance, or do not know how to effectively handle those tasks. Most people serving on a nonprofit board are volunteers, meaning they are not being compensated for their time and expertise. While this is mostly beneficial, it does come with its own unique challenges, including when a board member becomes ineffective in his/her role.
So what do you do with an ineffective board member? Here are some steps to help you get them motivated and moving in the right direction:
Get to the Root of the Problem
The very first step you need to take is to figure out WHY the board members is not carrying out his/her responsibilities effectively.
Are they ineffective because they do not have the skills and knowledge to carry out the tasks?
Or because there are not clearly defined responsibilities? Are they too busy in their personal and/or professional life? Or are they simply not motivated or passionate about the cause?
Without understanding the source of the issue, it will be impossible to appropriately handle it and solve the obstacles that are inhibiting your board member from serving the organization better. Being able to understand the root of the problem will help you in the next step, which is addressing the issue.
Address the Issue
Once the root of the problem is clearly defined, it is time to address the issue.
What this does NOT mean: Calling out the ineffective board member publicly in front of all of the other board members and staff of the organization.
What it DOES mean: Sit the board member down by yourself or with another member of your leadership. Explain the patterns you have been noticing and why you think the issues are happening (the root of the problem). Let them know that you would like to help them problem solve and support them as they work to improve their skills as a board member. Assure them that they are an important and integral part of the board and you want to see them succeed in the role.
Set A Clear Strategy
Create an action plan WITH the board member. Whether this means establishing better roles for the board members or spending one-on-one time with the board member to cultivate skills in a specific area, make sure that they are part of the process. People do not like to be told what to do, but more often than not they like being part of a solution. Making them a partner in this will help create a positive tone and a more engaged participant.
More than anything, the best way to handle an ineffective board member is by following through with your strategy and providing consistent support. Notice successes, no matter how minor, and let him/her know through your actions that the organization is behind them.
While this may feel like extra work or a burden for you or another staff member, it will be well worth the time to have an effective, motivated board member carrying out his/her expected responsibilities.
If Nothing Works…
There is a chance that after all this, things do not get better. Especially if the root of the problem is apathy or a lack of desire to support your cause, there will only be so much your organization can do to handle this an board member.
At this point, look at your term limits. Your best option moving forward may just be to wait out their term and look for another enthusiastic, motivated, and effective board member to take his/her place.
(If your organization has not already established term limits for you board members, that is something to consider immediately. It can save you a lot of headache later- especially for situations such as this!)
How has your organization dealt with with an ineffective board member? Let us know your experience in the comments! And we always appreciate other comments, questions, and concerns!