A while ago, I wrote about the Rule of One-Thirds when it comes to boards: One-third of boards are helpful, one-third are useless, and one-third are actually destructive to their missions. Of the two-thirds of boards that are useless or destructive, a lot of it can be blamed on the fact that the default board model we’ve been using is archaic and makes little sense. Let’s take a group of well-meaning people who see one percent of the work, who often have little to no nonprofit experience, and who many times don’t reflect the community being served, and give them vast power over the organization. (And while we’re at it, let’s have them conduct business through Robert’s Rules, a set of rules formalized literally 145 years ago, in 1876).

While our sector works to explore new governance models, we need to address other issues with boards, namely that many board members, and specifically board chairs, have warped perceptions of their importance, combined with delusions of wisdom. Board members’ egos can be one of the most aggravating things about working in this field. It is probably one of the biggest drivers of EDs/CEOs quitting their jobs to pursue a career in real estate.

Boards are groups of volunteers who give a lot of time, money, and skills to nonprofits, and should be appreciated. But like funders, you wield enormous power in our sector, which means no one is telling you the truth, and the truth is that many of you are causing a ton of damage. So, if you are a board member, and especially if you are a board chair or will assume this position, please check your egos and remind yourselves of these things:

  • You, the board, and other board members are not the boss of the ED/CEO.
  • You are almost guaranteed to know less than the staff on just about everything.
  • Just because you have expertise in an area, it doesn’t mean it will be helpful.
  • You need to constantly assess how your personal experiences and biases are affecting the org.
  • You are constantly behind staff on social issues and may be preventing progress.
  • When you speak by your lonesome self, you are like any other volunteer.
  • Your ego may be the final straw that causes the ED/CEO to quit.
  • You need to think about the long-term impact of your actions

Read the full article about advice for board members by Vu Le at Nonprofit AF.