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5 Reasons Your Nonprofit Board Doesn’t Do What You Want Them to Do

By June 22, 2016March 17th, 2022Engaging Your Board

How many of these are true for you and your nonprofit board?


1. You make assumptions that are incorrect about board members knowledge, skills, or comfort level.

2. You make board members wrong, mostly behind their back, and they feel it.

3. Board members, especially the new ones, are nervous about making a mistake or overstepping their bounds.

4. Board members want to do a great job, but they forget the “when” or the “how” so they don’t do anything.

5. Some of your board members are bored and feel disconnected from your mission.

This list could be much longer. Add to it if you’d like. Especially if it will make you feel better.

What I find most often when I work with board members: their intentions are good. BUT you or your staff can make it look like you really don’t need them to do more than show up to a meeting now and then and rubber stamp the financials. And frankly, they find your board meetings less than stimulating.

So, they start to miss meetings and some seem to stop caring.

The truth might be much closer to any or all of the five reasons I’ve listed here.

What to do?

Stop “running the show” and invite them to do specific tasks. And then provide them the tools, systems, and support to do what you asked them to do. That will take you far to creating a better nonprofit board.

True Story
I delivered an Action Planning session in March for more than 22 board members and key staff leadership for an organization doing incredibly important work. An outcome and agreed upon action from the session was the board would start to make thank you calls to current donors, the following week. For the foreseeable future, thank you calls would be made within one week of receiving the gift.

    At our debrief call 3 weeks after the working session, no one on staff had taken any action to:

    • Gather the list of recent donors.
    • Make sure phone numbers were correct.
    • Set up a system for the board members to sign up for a week of calls at a time.
    • Distribute the list of donor names to be thanked.

    No follow-up work had been done. At all.

    On our call the board members complained that they didn’t have the tools to do what we all agreed was an important task for increasing donor retention.

    While staff complained that the board was getting “too much in the weeds” for the staff to keep up with them and they didn’t have time to do all “that work.”


    Fortunately I was on a conference call and no one could see my stunned face.

    Engaged board members were ASKING for lists and the tools to do what was asked of them.

    One or two well-meaning staff poured water on the board enthusiasm and allowed a tone of complaining into their voices on the call. With some candid comments, questions, and promises with deadlines attached we got things back on track. But it wasn’t pretty for a few minutes.

    I truly believe most board members show up wanting to do excellent work on your board.

    If they aren’t shown how to do things they’ve never done before, they start to tune out or worse yet, they stop showing up.

    Don’t assume they know how to make the call or invite someone to sit at their table or tell a story about a client.

    Don’t make them wrong for what appears to be lack of caring. It could simply be lack of clarity of next steps OR they forgot the when and what they were intending to do.

    Don’t assume they read your emails right away, if at all. If it’s important, leave a voice message too.

    I’m extremely committed to shifting the working relationships between board and staff. So much so that I have written about the topic many times in this blog.

    An Open Letter to Nonprofit Boards from Your Staff Leadership
    7 Powerful Ways Board Members Can Help and NOT Ask for Money
    Mission Possible: Engaging Your Board in Fundraising

    Want more tips for engaging your board? Download Mission Possible: Your Workbook for a Successful Board that includes some of my favorite worksheets and templates to help you create an amazing board experience AND cause board engagement all year-long.


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