Dani Robbins

Archive for September, 2013|Monthly archive page

I’m Moving on Up; You’re Moving on Out! Or How to Remove a Board Member

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards on September 24, 2013 at 4:42 pm

I’m moving on up; you’re moving on out is the chorus of an old song I’ve always loved and I try to have a bit of fun with this blog, so … let’s talk about removing Board members.

All leaders have a shelf life. Bad leaders have a shorter shelf life. It is easier to avoid putting a potentially bad board member on the board than to remove an actually bad one, but that is a luxury you may not have. Some time, some day, somewhere in some volunteer Board position, you will have to remove a Board member. If you plan to spend your life in service to your community, the question isn’t if but when and once that time comes, how?

All Board terms eventually come to an end. The easiest way to remove a Board member is to not renew their term. Most terms are 2-3 years. (This is assuming you are following your by-laws and actually considering when terms expire and if members should be renewed. If you are not, that is an excellent place to start ramping up your Board practices.) If the Board member to be removed isn’t violating any ethics, policies or laws, it may be worth your while to wait them out or ask them to resign. Then again, it may not.

Board members are removed as outlined in your by-laws (in Ohio called Code of Regulations), which like any official document provides only the process, without the kindness.

Before it comes to that, I recommend you ask for a resignation. Obviously, it’s easier for someone to resign than for the Board to have to take formal action to remove them. Allowing for a resignation greatly increases your chances of being able to continue to count on the person as an ambassador, donor and friend, and it also mitigates the damage control you may have to do later.

How to get them to resign?

I always joke that the easiest way to get someone to resign is to ask them for $10,000. I used to have a Board member who never came to meetings but loved to call me with last minute grants requests that he insisted we write to his company for funds we never received. When we initiated our capital campaign and set our (very large and later achieved) Board goal, we called to set up the meeting to ask for his gift. He resigned on the spot. I joke but it’s a joke grounded in experience.

When you change the way business gets done in an organization, people may no longer be interested in serving that organization. That’s okay. There may also be people who had the best intentions when they joined your Board but either didn’t understand the scope of the role, or are no longer able to fulfill the role. That’s okay too. Then, there are people who are bad Board members, either because they are disengaged, distressed or just flat out disreputable. In all cases, it is our job to protect the organization and provide a gracious exit.

Some options for your consideration:

The hinting around option: Have the Board Chair (not the CEO) call the member and suggest that they seem less engaged lately and ask if they can continue to serve. Depending on how the conversation goes, you should either get a firmer commitment for service or the request to step down or away.

The direct option: Have the Board Chair explain the situation, the impact of the member’s inaction and ask for their resignation.

There is no shame in resigning. There is shame in not fulfilling your obligations (though you might not want to say that).

If the person is violating ethics, policies or laws, you have an obligation to remove them. Your by-laws will lay out how that process should be done and under what circumstances. Some by-laws require the calling of a meeting for that purpose. Some by-laws require different standards if the removal is for cause or without cause. The difference is often simple majority vs. 2/3 majority. Your by-laws spell out how Board members are to be removed. It’s usually at the beginning, around the 2nd or 3rd page.

Even if the removal is for cause, if appropriate, it might still be worth a call asking for the resignation. Most people, even those who are violating our standards, will resign when given the chance.

There will be some cases when it will not be appropriate to ask for a resignation and the Board will have to take action. As with any termination, consider what of the organization’s property or access the Board member may have, including banking, documents and also money. (This is a good place to remind everyone that checks and balances can avoid some of these issues and that most organizational documents should be kept in the organization’s office when at all possible.) Of course, unless you get the materials back before you initiate action or involve the police, whatever you fear is likely to materialize once you formally remove them from office.

Back to the title, when you remove a Board member, unless it’s an Officer- and let’s hope it’s not (if it is the above will still apply) – there isn’t usually an “up” in which to move. Even so, leadership abhors a vacuum and assuming the Board member being removed is the destructive kind rather than the disengaged kind, the remaining leaders will have to assess the circumstances that allowed destructive on the board in the first place. Feedback loops are critical to learning. Life and leadership is about making new mistakes.

The removal of a volunteer leader is less likely to be needed when Board members are screened, selected, oriented and developed appropriately, but good planning isn’t a guarantee; sometimes we get it wrong.

The work of the organization is too essential to get bogged down with bad decisions or bad leaders. Good Boards make tough decisions. The important thing is to address the issue, rather than compound the problem.

What have you done to remove Board members? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. If you have other ideas or suggestions for blog topics, please share. A rising tide raises all boats.

Twelve Signs of a Well Run Organization

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development on September 20, 2013 at 9:26 am

I go in and out of a lot of organizations.  There are a few things for which I’m always on the lookout and the combination of what I see contributes to the recommendations I offer regarding the organization’s capacity for growth, sustainability and greatness.

I look to see if the mission, vision and values are obvious and if everyone knows them. I look at the policies, permits, organizational documents, job descriptions, resumes, and any and all plans that exist.

Here are the other things I look for, look out for and ask to review:

1. By-laws (Code of Regulations in Ohio) that are appropriate, revised periodically and, most importantly, followed.  I look at how Officers and renewing members are selected and how new members are recruited, oriented and voted upon.  I look at terms and term limits.  I look at Committee structures and purpose, how new committee members are added and if they need to be Board members.

2.  A Board that is well respected in the community who are aware of and fulfilling their role, including setting goals and annually evaluating the Executive Director, and setting metrics by which to assess the organization’s impact. I also look at how the Board is oriented, educated, evaluated and recognized. And if it reflects the diversity of the community.

When I am invited to Board meetings, I pay attention to how much the Exec speaks, how much the other staff speak and how often members of the board speak.  I notice if there are robust discussions and if votes are taken appropriately (appropriately being defined as “as outlined in Roberts Rules of Order” for the organizations that follow that model, which most do).  I notice if all votes are unanimous and if anybody is challenging anything.  I note if the minutes from the last meeting are approved and if financial statements are presented and approved.  I notice if anyone asks questions and if they are perfunctory questions or questions that reflect an understanding of the statements or issue at hand.

Everything flows from a strong Board.

3. Mission, Vision and Values of which everyone is aware, and upholding or moving toward.  Do the programs tie to mission?  Can people recite the mission and the values?  Is there a vision?

4. A Strategic Plan that lays out the path forward. Is there one? Does it include timelines, measurements and assignments? You’ve heard me say it before but a plan that doesn’t have each of the three is really just a list.

5.  Leadership – An Exec who has the passion, judgment, skills, training and experience to lead, and is known and respected in the community.  A recent fortune cookie I received said “if you have no critics you have had no successes.”  The Exec job is hard and not everyone is going to love them, but if the Exec communicates the vision and the path, people will follow.

6. Staff who have a passion for the organization’s mission, the appropriate technical experience, skills, training, and education for your field and their role. They also have to be on the team and moving the organization forward.  It is no longer enough to only be good at your job.  To ensure we  have the right people in the right seats we need staff to be both good at their job and on the team.

7. Organizational Culture that supports and empowers and also holds people accountable.

8. Cultures of Fund Raising or Philanthropy – Which is present and is that the appropriate culture to meet the goals of the organization?

9. Systems including infrastructure, financial processes, policies, plans and procedures that reflect the organization’s values; provide boundaries, training and growth opportunities for all; and reflect best practices and appropriate standards.

 10. An Excellent Program that ties to the mission, meets its goals, measures impact and moves the needle for change in the community. None of the above will matter if the program is mediocre.  The program or service provided must be excellent.

11. A facility that inspires hope, rather than exhaustion. We have all been in organizations that make us tired the minute we walk in the door.  It’s hard to be inspired or inspire others when surrounded by 2nd hand furniture that doesn’t match, stacked boxes, tons of papers and dingy walls.

12. Technology that supports (and doesn’t hinder) the work of the organization. At a minimum, there should be financial software; separate donor software if you receive contributed income; current (less than 3 year old) computers that have appropriate software and virus protection; an informative website and a reasonable email and phone system.  There should also be relevant policies on the use of technology and social media.

Did I leave anything out?  What do you use to gauge the quality, capacity and sustainability of an organization?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience.  If you have other ideas or suggestions for blog topics, please share. A rising tide raises all boats.

Thank You Board Members!

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards on September 9, 2013 at 8:30 am

New readers are most often led to my blog via an internet search about thanking board members. And while I have written An Open Letter to Board Members I Have Known and Loved, thanking my own Board members, I haven’t written a post on how and why board members should be thanked. Let’s rectify that right now!

Board members work hard, for 5-10 hours a month, for two to three year stints, for free. Thanking them for that alone would be an excellent use of gratitude.

The “how” to thank them is sometimes a bit trickier. Just like donors, the question always comes back to “how do they like to be acknowledged and appreciated?”

Some board members want to see their name in lights. Some do not. Some will be very pleased with a personal note from the person in the organization to whom they’re closest. Some would not find that sufficient. Some would like an award or a plaque. Some would not. Some love things with the agency name on it. Some think it’s a waste of agency resources.

Board members, most of whom are also donors, should be appreciated in whatever manner they prefer which means you need to know them well enough to know what that manner is.

We once had a few of the kids from my Club (Boys & Girls Clubs of the Western Reserve) call each Board member and personally tell them why they loved the Club and thank them for serving on the Board. One of the Directors loved the message so much that he kept it. I fully expect one of the girls who made those calls – and continued to ask us for weeks if she could do it again – to become a Development or Executive Director some day.

We’ve also had kids (who wanted to) write thank you notes. In fact, I just got a very similar note myself in the mail from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus. It’s sitting on my desk right now!

I’ve written gratitude cards to members of my Board (staff too) outlining why I appreciate them and how they contribute to our organization’s success. I’ve always tried to treat my Board members like donors… plus!

Whatever your donors get your Board should also get, assuming they are donating at the same levels (and at least some of them should be).


Have a lunch, dinner or cocktail party just to say thank you.

Acknowledge your Board on the organization’s website, letterhead and at every opportunity.

Crate an internal award process for the Board Member of the Year. Consider having a staff award as well.

Use your Linked In, Twitter or (the organization’s) Facebook account to post or tweet every time one of them gets a promotion, wins an award or has a happy something to share!

Nominate one of them for an award. Most communities have awards of some sort; find out what awards are available in your community and nominate your most dedicated Board member. AFP, the Chamber of Commerce or the Community Foundation are good places to start.

You could also write an Op-Ed piece or a Letter to the Editor bragging about the contributions of your Board. (Image the future Board members that will intrigue!)

If you have a long time dedicated Board member, consider naming something after them. It doesn’t have to be a building, or a room – though it could be – it could also be a program, activity or event.

Give certificates for Board service at the end of terms as well as a plaque or other gift for those who serve as Chair. Committee members would appreciate the same recognition. I once heard an Exec say that a former committee member was frustrated because he never thanked her, which he implied was unreasonable. People working for your organization and helping you move your mission forward deserve your appreciation, or at a minimum your acknowledgement. On their behalf, I ask you to please find a way to express it.

There are lots of things you can do to show your appreciation. Find one. Find many. Say thank you! You’ll be glad you did- and your volunteers will be that much more likely to say yes the next time you call.

What have you done to thank your Board members? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. If you have other ideas for thanking board members, or suggestions for blog topics, please share. A rising tide raises all boats.

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