I have the privilege of working with numerous nonprofit Boards and am amazed at dedication and care exhibited by most nonprofit Board members. There are exceptions that, not surprisingly, cause or fuel Board issues and one of the worst issues is lack of commitment.
Commitment issues may manifest in meeting absences, lack of participation or an overall problem with performing Board duties. These issues develop over time and finding their root cause can be tough. Learning about these commitment killers can help to avoid them or detect them early.
This is a guide for member selection committees, as well as, prospective and existing Board members. If these items apply to your personal situation, it may be time for you to reevaluate. If you are responsible for recruiting or selecting Board members, keep these red flags in mind.
Commitment Killers, The Line Up
A Friend Talked Me into It
Board memberships based on relationships are common as “bring a friend” has been the primary recruiting technique for many nonprofits. Often, friends have similar interests, so initially there may be a high level of commitment. However, the recruiting member may eventually leave resulting in the new member feeling abandoned leading to a decrease in commitment.
My Boss Volunteered Me for It
Numerous for-profit organizations “encourage” nonprofit Board membership as a development opportunity for future leaders. Some go as far as to pay for training and in a few situations executives on nonprofit Boards may nominate one of their staff members as a candidate.
A Board is not always an effective learning ground. Nonprofits have real issues that require competent leaders and training alone won’t prepare someone for Board level decision-making. Second, doing something to impress your boss is not the same as being committed to an organization. Even if the person is engaged initially, that commitment may not remain if the boss leaves the Board or if the person changes jobs.
I Donate A Lot, So I Deserve a Board Seat
If an organization has a legacy practice of offering Board memberships to large donors, it is hard to stop. Couple that with the fact that many organizations do not have term limits and a nonprofit can find itself with Board members for life. On the upside, large donors often care about the organization, so there is some level of commitment, but they must remain involved. Entitlement often leads to disinterest and that large donation can be a crutch. Ultimately, need for social status may replace commitment.
I Joined the Board 15 Years Ago and Can’t Escape
This is a Board Development issue, but it drives commitment problems as well.
The better you perform on a nonprofit Board, the less likely they will ever want you to leave. This can result in pressure from the Chair or from peers on the Board, as well as personal concerns. However, performance wanes without change and members that feel trapped will disengage slowly or the quality of their contributions will decrease.
Boards need to change over time to remain aligned with the nonprofit’s client and funding communities.
I Joined Because It Will Look Good on My Resume
This is another reason that can be a positive in the short-term but tends to turn negative over time. If the member is viewing the Board as a means to an end, that does not necessarily mean they will not be committed. Early on, they may be very committed because they are looking for successes to point to in interviews. Over time, however, the member needs to become committed to the cause, not their own benefit or eventually their commitment will decrease.
Know the signs of commitment issues, institute term limits and enact a Board Development Plan. If not, you may have problems simmering on the horizon (or a lot closer). Think about candidate motivations during your recruiting process and check that they will commit to your cause not just their own. Remember that none of these items guarantee a problem with commitment, but they often lead there, so be aware and proactively work to avoid these situations.
Do you know of any other Board Member Commitment Killers? Please share them to continue the discussion.
For more on Board member section, check out this Nonprofit Information article
For more on Board member pipeline development, check out this NFPBTN post
About the author:
Michael F. Cade is a nonprofit advisor and executive coach, taking the nonprofit sector Beyond the Numbers. He is a leadership pathfinder, helping nonprofits optimize operations and strategy to attain long-term viability and relevance. His Framework for Fiscal Sustainability is an innovative approach for evaluating organizational health and securing the ongoing ability to deliver on its mission.
Mr. Cade publishes the nonprofit leadership blog Not for Profit Beyond the Numbers
If you have questions or would like a consultation on a nonprofit leadership or operational issue, contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org