Is your nonprofit doing enough to create a healthy board experience?

I’ll admit it: What follows isn’t really a horror story (per se). That is, they aren’t the corporate-level intrigue (and possible fraud) of some other articles. In fact, we might call them incredibly ordinary. But I’d argue what makes them the most upsetting is just how relatable these two tales are. In fact, if you’ve ever thought about resigning from a nonprofit board, you probably have a similar story.

The first anecdote involves my time as board chair of the local affiliate of a national organization. When I joined, the local chapter was focused on improving my community — something I could definitely get behind. But then the national organization restructured and decided that the smaller chapters would support the national brand — without local input.

Admittedly, the organization still wanted to do great work, but it didn’t have the community focus I signed up for. After several contentious conversations with headquarters staff, I chose to resign.

At a different nonprofit, I was recruited for a board position with the understanding that I would contribute professional (legal) expertise. At my first board meeting, the board was begged to volunteer to spend a Saturday picking up trash at the organization’s camp.

From talking with more senior board members, it became clear that this form of routine volunteering (and fundraising) were the primary modes of service expected of the board — use of professional expertise would be infrequent and ancillary, if even that. I resigned shortly after that meeting.

After these incidents, I began to consider the importance of curating board experience. After all, a dissatisfied board member holding a board seat can be worse than a vacant board seat: They take up space and can be disruptive to healthy board activity.

But board member dissatisfaction can have many causes, from the shift in organizational objectives of the first story to the unclear performance expectations of the second anecdote. Both of these represent a kind of bait-and-switch that leaves both board members and nonprofit employees frustrated. Which leads us to the question: How can nonprofits curate a healthy board experience?

Read the full article about strengthening nonprofit boards at Blue Avocado.