5 Reasons Nonprofit Boards Stall – and What You Can Do About It

Have you ever sat down at a board meeting and realized that no one was excited to be there? There could be several reasons for that. Maybe it was the end of a long day for everyone. Maybe they ate too much for dinner and are tired. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s something you can do something about. Maybe there’s something that simply got sidetracked somewhere along the way that you can do something to remedy.

Here are five reason boards stall with a suggestion (or two) for each:

  • Group Think. Have you seen the studies that sent people out on the street to ask for help? An interesting situation unfolded. If there were just one or two people on the street, typically one of them would see what they could do to help. However if there were more than 2 or 3 people on the street, everyone appeared to wait to see if someone else would do something. In fact, in many cases, no one ended up doing anything. This situation often occurs in the nonprofit board room. Everyone is waiting to see what everyone else will do. One thing to try? Bring in an outside expert to provide a critical analysis of the situation. another option is to assign someone the role of the ‘devil’s advocate.’
  • Wrong People. When you were recruiting your board, did you ask them to be a part as a favor to you? Or did you ask them because you thought they couldn’t say no to you? If you have the wrong people and the wrong skill sets represented, take a step back, identify what your goals for the board are, and identify the skills you need to accomplish that. Then look out in the community and seek out people who are well known and who are passionate about your cause.
  • Unclear Expectations. When recruiting board members it is tempting to minimize the commitment that will be required of members. The right people will still want to be a part, and the people who are only trying to fill their resume will shy away. Having clear expectation will help ensure you are recruiting the right people.
  • No Accountability. Our board members are busy people and its easy for things to slip their mind. Generally speaking, they appreciate check-in and reminder calls. Don’t rely on emails for this. Just pick up the phone and call – or ask another board member to make that call. This idea has taken root and resulted in forward movement more than any other with the organizations I have worked with. Waiting a month until the next board meeting to bring something up again only results in things being delayed – or sidetracked permanently.
  • ‘Magical’ Thinking. Growing up near a major tourist destination in Orlando Florida and having a mom who worked as a chaplain in the local emergency room opened my eyes to this phenomenon early. We would hear stories of people doing things that they wouldn’t do under normal situations. Something about pixie dust perhaps. But sometimes, in the nonprofit world, we have our own kind of pixie dust. It makes us think that nothing bad can come to the organization we work with and that things will fix themselves. We must be proactive and not fall into this trap.

What other ways have you seen organizations stall – and how have you seen them overcome the challenge? I look forward to reading your responses!

Comments

5 Reasons Nonprofit Boards Stall – and What You Can Do About It — 4 Comments

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  2. Great stuff Kirsten! I would add one more to the list and that’s too much trust in the Board Chair or Executive Committee. When this happens, many Board members mentally check out, thinking their expertise isn’t needed. They’ll stop showing up for meetings and become disengaged.

    Sandy Rees

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