The board was excited, there was someone new and powerful that was suddenly interested in the organization; his child had recently been diagnosed with the condition the organization represented.
The group had constantly been seeking new board members to further their growth, and this person looked as if he would be a fantastic addition.
Elliott (not his real name) seemed to be the answer to a prayer: he was the owner of several businesses, he could bring the Big Three: Time, Treasure and Talent. As the board had been made up principally of patients, Elliott could be instrumental in elevating the public profile, infusing some new cash and connecting with a network of professional associations. He was organized and energetic and now passionately supportive of the cause.
The problem was, in a nutshell, Elliott was a jerk. His forceful personality cowed a few of the more delicate board members, who visibly shrank when he was around. He was critical of pretty much everything the board and staff had done, without the benefit of understanding why things were the way they were. He put forth motions for changes and verbally beat back questions or hesitations. He was condescending to the preeminent volunteer, constantly forgetting his correct tile and trivializing his work. He punctuated the meetings by slamming his notebook shut, looking out over his glasses and asking, ” Okay, who has a problem with this now?”
Some board members wanted to resign, publicly saying they felt Elliott could do a better job in moving the company forward without them, but privately because they no longer wanted to work with him. In fact, enough of them wanted to leave that the nonprofit would not have its required number of board members.
Ultimately only one of the original board members remained and the balance of the roster was new, most of them handpicked by Elliott. Many volunteers and all the staff left; the operation of the organization was subcontracted out to a management firm. While the business aspect became more formal, the sense of community and mutual support that was the genesis of this nonprofit waned visibly.
As a result of Elliott’s board tenure, the original spirit of the organization had changed dramatically.While there may have been an increase in Facebook ‘likes’, the actual membership roster declined. Some of the administrative functions improved, but the sense of belonging to a close knit group was gone. The financial volume of the organization didn’t ultimately increase, in fact, remained flat.
Be very aware of the type of board member you seek and invite to join. There are wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing, there are those that promise the world and deliver considerably less and then there are those who upset the apple cart totally.
Elliott is no longer on the board, yet a bitter taste remains with many. The membership fragmented and the loss of forward momentum has hurt the quest for more recognition and external support. Having money, contacts and commitment aren’t the only qualities to consider.
Your board is critical to how you operate, how you are perceived from the outside and from within. Choose carefully. Any new board member has to work with the current board members and have the vision to see the past, as well as the future.
Need help in vetting a candidate? Give a call, questions are always free, let’s be sure you make the best choices for your nonprofit.