Something as simple as a board member’s ego nearly cost a California nonprofit executive her job recently. This story from the Hotline is a good reminder of how important it is for the executive director to know his board members well and meet their personal board-service needs. Here’s what happened:
“My board chair forced through a bylaws change, and as a result of that, micromanagement became rampant around here,” she said. The problems at the organization spun out of control so quickly that a state oversight agency eventually became involved and demanded that the bylaws be revised again to fix the problems, she said.
This organization had been performing well, and the administrator was meeting the board’s goals for the nonprofit. “My board was giving me a lot of credit for the agency’s success, and I was trying to give the board its due credit as well,” the California executive said.
“My problem was that my board chair felt left out when the credit was being handed out,” she said.
Problems escalated rapidly at that point, and the executive still remembers how upsetting it was when another board member told her the chair “planned to take her down a notch.”
The chair started orchestrating employee complaints. “He really ramped up the tension when he had one of those employees trump up some serious charges against me,” she said. “At that point, the chair tried to relieve me of my duties.”
The organization’s bylaws prevented this unilateral move by the chair, so the chair made the necessary moves to change the bylaws to give himself the necessary power to act. In fact, the chair made himself CEO of the nonprofit, the California executive said.
To achieve this, the chair scheduled board meetings when many board members could not attend, and insisted that he didn’t need a majority of the board present at the meetings to install himself as the CEO, but only a majority at the meeting to vote him in as chair, the administrator said.
It took a year to get this situation reversed, and only after many nightmarish meetings and damage to the nonprofit. “He used intimidation and yelling to run off key employees during this year,” she said.
What did the California executive learn from this fiasco? “Strengthen your bylaws by making a supermajority of the board a requirement to alter them,” she said.
While that may or may not be a good idea for your organization, this story illustrates a key point about the board and administrator relationship: Nonprofit executives need to spend a great deal of time building a personal relationship with each board member. If the California nonprofit executive had better understood that she had a board chair with a massive ego that needed stroking, maybe the damage to the organization could have been prevented.
Successful administrators don’t leave much to chance when it comes to relationships with their board members. They make conscious efforts to know each board member’s needs and interests — and then meet them.
Jeff Stratton, Editor