[Your Name Here] and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad, Nonprofit Board of Directors

Whether you’re a new nonprofit employee in your first gig excited to change the world everysingledayofyourcareerstartingnow {inhale} or a more seasoned professional who’s already been there and done that, it’s possible that at some point you’ll find yourself facing an unruly Board of Directors. These executives may at times appear to thrive on crushing dreams for a living, but it’s important to remember that not all Boards are bad. More importantly, not all bad Boards have to stay bad. Or at least, they don’t have to remain an obstacle for you if you know how to handle them.


Here are 3 pointers on how to deal with a Board of Directors that seems to survive solely on the tears of nonprofit employees:

  1. There are no carbon copy Boards.

While one agency’s Board may allow employees to enjoy a long leash, another may prefer to have a say in every teeny decision. When becoming acquainted with a Board try to observe the organization’s culture to get a feel for dynamics before forming an opinion. If you’ve had a bad experience with a Board in the past, try not to let that influence your relationship with this Board.

As any Pinterest junkie with a passion for chalkboard paint can tell you, it’s important to start with a clean slate. Working with an unfamiliar Board is no exception.


  1. “What were they thinking?!?” moments can turn out okay.

Sometimes you’ll hear about a nonprofit fiasco so ridiculous it makes you wonder if the Board was taking a collective yearlong nap. These incidents run the gamut from misplaced money to long-underperforming programs that never seem to change. If you would like to join a Board committee or provide feedback to ensure everything goes smoothly moving forward and changes are implemented, a great opportunity to express interest and commitment to the organization is when things aren’t going all that swimmingly.

While nobody wants to see a nonprofit or its community suffer, less than ideal moments can serve as a necessary wake up call to getting a nonprofit back on the right track. And if you feel nervous about voicing your opinions, just remember why you got into this line of work in the first place: To help those in need by joining with others to create a massive force for good.

Don’t lose heart, Nonprofit Professional! There are a multitude of professional, caring, and hard-working Board members in our beloved nonprofit sector. Which leads me to the final point…

  1. A wonderful Board of Directors is NOT a unicorn.

Above all else, don’t forget that effective, positive, and compassionate Boards of Directors are out there. These Boards are not rare and mythical creatures as you may sometimes believe, although you might have to do some digging to find the perfect fit for you. Keep in mind that you’ll hear about the incidents of Boards behaving badly much more frequently than you’ll hear about the thousands of positive nonprofit Boards out there.

YNPNblogpic3By keeping these 3 points in mind when going about routine interactions with your Board of Directors, you can highlight the common purpose you share. Try to find the connection between your job and theirs, and work to strengthen that relationship based on your common goals. If you can work in sync with the Board of Directors not only will the constituents of your organization benefit, but your job will become a much more harmonious part of your life. And then you can get back to that whole change the world everysingledayofyourcareerstartingnow thing.

Arlene Vieira | Programming Co-Chair | Jewish Family Services

Arlene Vieira | Programming Co-Chair | Jewish Family Services

Written by Ms. Arlene Vieira

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