Two organizations with which we have been working have very similar concerns. At each nonprofit, there is at least one board member who is disruptive to meetings. And both have leadership that want that to change.
The Disruptive Board Member(s)
Based on a board member’s personal approach—often rooted in personality—there is at least one person who:
- Likes to point out problems but has no time or willingness to help with solutions
- Insists that their solutions are the only way to find a successful path forward
- Cannot get past a specific issue resolved in a way they did not support so that now they are having trouble supporting anything
- Tries to dominate the meeting (or specific agenda items)
- Believes the cohort they represent needs more attention or resources
- Is invested and wants to understand the details of decisions but doesn’t have enough time to participate in committee work. (Which often translates into someone who wants to revisit every committee recommendation in a deep dive at board meetings)
How does the rest of the board feel?
The result is that one bad apple can upset the cart. Or, in this case make the board meeting uncomfortable for everyone.
Not everyone is going to raise their hand and tell you they don’t enjoy volunteering for your nonprofit. Instead, they may step off the board at the first opportunity, make less of an effort to be at meetings and make your nonprofit less of a priority in their lives. And once a volunteer has shifted focus to other nonprofits or life-priorities, it’s not easy to bring them back.
What can be done?
If this has been going on for some time, one meeting will not change how everyone feels. Like stewardship or altering a donor’s perception of your organization, it will take consistent proof that change is happening. But you can start showing your intentions by:
- Moving the agenda along. Keep time and limit conversations to predetermined timeframes. There will be some conversations that need to be extended, but not every conversation falls into this category. You probably already know who a good timekeeper will be. Asking that person for help will show that you understand the strengths and weaknesses of individual board members and you are trying to make change.
- Having a private one-on-one conversation, outside of the board meeting, can help the person(s) in question feel heard.
- Express to the board member that, to you, it feels as if they want a deeper understanding of the development/finance/program decisions. If this is true, suggest they join the committee where the discussions can go deeper on certain issues- when they have an hour or more to consider the issue. If they cannot/will not join the committee – ask them for suggestions as to how they can participate without diminishing the committee’s work prior to the meeting.
- Explaining that as board-chair you are having trouble getting through the agenda in a timely way – and ask if they have suggestions. Be open to the responses. It may be that many members want fewer agenda items with deeper discussion or that allowing a deeper dive on one pre-determined issue would feel more meaningful.
- Repair damage by making it less personal. We can assume that everyone is at the board table because they care, but just as in any for-profit business, decisions often have to be made for the good of the organization and not necessarily the good of the individual board members. We all have to get past our personal issues and focus on the larger organizational goals.
- Training sessions reminding board members of:
- Their responsibilities to the nonprofit
- The value of introverts. Allowing the loudest board members to have the most impact is dismissing the importance of an introvert’s value to your board.
- Basic skills that when absent can derail board meetings. (Think about how many people at the table understand how to read a P&L vs. asking questions that are obvious to those in the know)
- Holding a retreat to regain consensus. Sometimes, people have to be reminded of the positive energy that can happen within the group. Using ice breakers, small group exercises that acknowledge different learning styles (pictures help some people think outside of the box and oral stories help others.
And, of course, if you would like help with your specific board’s governance issue or your nonprofit’s next retreat, email me by clicking here.