Nonprofit Boards: On Saying No to Problem Board Members

Mar 18, 2011 6:00 PM ET

Alice Korngold's Blog

Who is the Charlie Sheen in Your Company,” asks Nell Minow, Co-Founder and Editor of The Corporate Library. The moment I read those words, I thought of too many nonprofit boards that tolerate problem board members because it’s uncomfortable to “fire” volunteers.

Yet, problem board members hinder nonprofits in advancing vital work in fighting poverty, providing healthcare, education, and emergency services, preserving the environment, and protecting human rights, just to name a few compelling nonprofit causes. And although nonprofit board members are volunteers, they have the fiduciary responsibility for the nonprofits they serve – they have the ultimate leadership authority.

Minow mentions Mel Gibson and John Galliano as well as Sheen, noting that enterprises often enable people that are high risk because of their perceived value; ultimately, she claims, nothing is done until it’s too late. Drawing lessons for corporate governance, Minow concludes that, “Everyone needs to hear ‘no’ sometimes, and every company needs someone who knows how and when to say it.”

Nonprofit boards can be particularly inclined to ignore and even enable problem board members. Excuses, and even legitimate concerns, include the following:

See continuation here on Fast Company...


Korngold Consulting LLC assists corporations in building fully integrated, high-impact CSR strategies, including leadership development through nonprofit board service.  Korngold Consulting trains and places business executives on nonprofit boards, and consults to nonprofit boards and leaders to strengthen governance for financial and strategic success.