If you’re lucky, you will never have to encounter conflict with a member of your nonprofit’s board. But if you live in the real world like the rest of us, chances are you won’t be that lucky. At some point, there will be a conflict on your nonprofit Board that will need to be addressed.
Some of the common issues that may arise with your Board members are:
- Not performing in alignment with your nonprofit’s mission
- Not properly disclosing conflicts of interest
- Lack of self-assessment
- Lack of self-improvement
- Consistently missing meetings
- Lack of fundraising
- Disrespectful behavior towards other members of the Board
- Lack of communication
- Lack of the ability to work as a team and/or complete assigned tasks
It may seem easier to simply overlook one bad apple but eventually, it will impact the entire Board and organization, so as the leader you need to be proactive and address any issues that arise with your Board head-on. Very few of us enjoy confrontation (even gentle confrontation). It can be scary because you never know how what you are saying might be interpreted and handled by the person you are addressing. There is also the underlying fear that the situation might escalate and become much worse. Still, it is imperative that you address conflict on your nonprofit Board, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel. If you don’t, a bad situation will only become worse.
Here are a few ways you can address conflict within your Board that are tactful and respectful to all parties involved:
- Reiterate the rules, policies, and responsibilities. You can create and/or re-circulate a document and send it via email that details your nonprofit’s mission, the board’s responsibilities as a whole, and the responsibilities of the individual members. Don't wait for conflict to arise before reminding the Board of the rules, policies, and responsibilities. Consider sending out this type of email each quarter as part of your nonprofit's communication strategy.
- Meet with your Board members to go over the rules, policies, and responsibilities as a group. If you are addressing the issue early on, meet with the group as a whole without singling any Board members out to go over the rules, policies, and responsibilities. This will give everyone an opportunity to ask questions and get answers and/or clarification.
- If the issue persists, meet with the individual Board member who is the culprit to address your concerns directly. This should be a face-to-face meeting, and your Board Chair should be in the meeting unless the conflict is with the Board Chair! (More on that in next week's blog post.) Go over expectations and be clear that the meeting is intended to resolve conflict. Make sure to stick only to the subject at hand. Keep the conversation constructive and try to find solutions. Schedule a date for follow-up if necessary. Document the meeting for your records, but make sure that those who participate in the meeting know that what is said is confidential. Of course, you can report any outcomes as needed, but this meeting should not be formal. In other words, no minutes are required. If necessary, consider bringing in a third party, or even a mediator or coach. Make sure that all parties involved feel that this person is unbiased.
Create Your Prevention Plan
After you address the current issue, take time to outline steps you can take and policies you can put in place to prevent similar situations in the future.
Here are a few preventative actions you can take:
- Make sure the policies and procedures for your Board are clearly defined and available for all to see all the time. These policies and procedures should be included in their Board manual or binder and discussed during Board Orientation. Your nonprofit’s policies and procedures should never be a surprise to your Board.
- Schedule regular check-ins with your Board members to reassert your nonprofit’s goals, the policies and procedures, and the individual Board member’s responsibilities. This will also allow an opportunity for your Board member to express their concerns and/or ask questions. You might want to take a few minutes out of each Board meeting to touch on these topics to keep them fresh in everyone’s minds. Making this a regular practice can stop problems before they start, and it fosters a sense of community among your Board.
- Make Board development, team building activities, and education a priority. It is worth it!
As you can see, there will be a large investment of your time, resources, and energy to make sure your Board is operating as efficiently as possible but the results and impact will be worth it.