March 21, 2011

How to Fire Lousy Board Members

Do you have board members who aren't working out? Don't fire them, make them fire themselves.

Or, as Simone Joyaux, a consultant from Foster, R.I., put it: "I much prefer enhancing their attrition. That should be Step No. 1."

A gentle strategy can help underperforming trustees save face without damaging the organization, Ms. Joyaux told an audience here at the Association of Fundraising Professionals' annual conference.

Her workshop, "Firing Lousy Board Members," explored the role of trustees, their mandate to run their organizations well, and the steps necessary to avoid saddling a board with members who are not up to the task.

Even before a new board member joins, she suggested, organizations should be able to articulate their expectations and then ask potential candidates whether they can serve with those expectations in mind.

"When you interview [board] candidates, you also have to talk about how the board sees itself as accountable," Ms. Joyaux said.

But in some cases, board members don't meet those expectations, or they cause strife. They don't show up for meetings. They dominate meetings or intimidate others. They're not prepared. Or they carry board business outside the boardroom. Ms. Joyaux suggests asking them point blank: "Is there something going on with your relationship with us as an organization?"

When board members do take the initiative to step down because they realize they're not performing well, take advantage of that moment and say: "It does seem appropriate for you at this time," Ms. Joyaux says.

And don't invite them back on the board, she added—though perhaps an offer to serve on a committee may be appropriate.

But even when "lousy" board members exit, Ms. Joyaux said, don't gloat. It could reflect badly on the organization and cause other board members to question your leadership.

"You have to have the guts to say, 'I'm so sorry. We love you, but this isn't working out for us,'" she added.