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Time to Go: Transitioning Board Members Off the Board

An ineffective member of the board can slow progress, cause stress, and weaken the morale of the other members. An organization selects board members for their expertise, experience, and dedication to the cause. The nature of the duties of a board member require that they have the freedom to raise funds, promote awareness, and forward your mission in their own time and in their own way. Removal may be warranted when they abuse that freedom, or when they fail to meet the standards for other reasons. Board member transition is a tricky but necessary topic to plan for.

Removing them can be a tough job, especially since it is an honorary position for which the member receives no compensation. Often, we wish to avoid conflict and hope the problem will fix itself. Unfortunately, there are a number of problems associated with allowing an ineffective board member to remain.

Problem board members can damage the reputation of your organization and hinder future donations. So it is clear that when a board member is not being productive or is uncooperative they need to be removed. This can be a daunting task, but can be done while preserving the dignity of the board, the organization, and the outgoing member.

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Leveraging Board Evaluations

If you are determined to transition a board member off, conducting evaluations is a good way to get the ball rolling. When members rate themselves, the committee, and their peers, it is easy to notice an underperforming member. When the results are in, you can use these reports to initiate a discussion with the underperforming member. At this point, you can ask her or him to consider transitioning off the board.

Consulting an Attorney

Disciplining a member wrongfully can create serious problems that you do not want to deal with. Before making the decision to remove a board member prior to the completion of their term, you should speak with a lawyer. An attorney who specializes in this area of the law can give you valuable advice and help you avoid any unwanted legal entanglements.

RELATED: How and When to Hire Nonprofit Consultants

Reasons for Board Member Transitions

Nonprofits should have formal policies to which everyone is expected to adhere. If your board does not, you should draft them. When these formalities are not complied with, it provides a clear basis to pursue removing a member.

All members of the board have clear fiduciary responsibilities. As long as these are clear cut, they are yet another basis for your case for transition. Consistent failure to meet fiduciary and fundraising responsibilities is a concrete place to start the conversation of leaving the board.

If the offending member is damaging the reputation of your organization, that is another clear-cut reason to remove him or her. This requires much less discussion, though you would definitely want to include the lawyer in preparation for the move.

Other Methods of Approach

Term limits are perhaps the most effective way to handle under-performing board members. Those who do not uphold the standards can have their term expire and not be reappointed. This saves a lot of avoidable conflict.

Other situations call for a member to step down. Conflicts of interest, a scandal, or behavior not fitting to the image of your organization are good reasons to ask a member to step down. Be sure your board chair and other board officers on the executive council are in agreement before addressing the board member.

RELATED: Webinar REPLAY: Board Engagement– A Must-Have for Nonprofit Success

Should personal problems cause board member performance to suffer, they can be asked to step down without any damage to their reputation or dignity. Health problems, family problems, a death in the family, or a difficult divorce are good examples.

Lessons Learned

The transition of a board member is sometimes unsettling and can serve as a wake-up call for everyone. The board should take the time to review the circumstances around the removal and discuss ways to prevent similar occurrences in the future New recruiting methods may be needed in cases where members underperform or where the member was scandalized. In all instances, the mission of your non-profit organization and the needs of the people you serve come first.


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