November 2, 2015

I was looking through my blog archives…And encountered this 6-year old post. It’s time to share this again. Because the situation isn’t any better! So here goes, with modifications.


You’re not a good board member if you miss lots of board meetings.

What do I mean by “lots”? Attend at least 75% of board meetings. Miss more than that and the organization should professionally, objectively, and respectfully get rid of you.

And don’t start whining about this. Here’s what I hear all the time:

  • “Well, I travel lots and so I miss a fair amount of board meetings. But I’m a great donor and I always read board meeting material and send an email with my opinion.”
  • “We cannot remove our largest donor from the board, even if she doesn’t attend regularly. After all, she’s our largest donor.”
  • “It’s so hard to find board members. We keep the good ones even if they don’t attend regularly.”

Oh please. You’re missing a very important concept: Corporate governance is a collective act. The legal corporate entity is the board. The board is a group. The board does governance. Governance only happens when the board (e.g., the group!) is together, virtually or in person.

When a board member is missing, he isn’t a good board member. When a board member is missing lots, she’s a lousy board member.

Being a great donor doesn’t make the person a great board member. Keep the good donor through great relationship building. And remove the person from the board.

Sharing ideas and thoughts outside the board meeting does not make a good board member. It’s board conversation that matters. Together people share insights and wisdom. They listen to each other. They question each other and themselves. And together, through conversation together, they make a decision. Sharing thoughts outside the group that is the board isn’t useful.

Adopt performance expectations. See my sample performance expectations. Evaluate board member performance. See my sample evaluation tool. Hold your board members accountable. Enforce performance expectations.

Graciously, professionally, objectively — enhance attrition. That’s when you help the board member understand that s/he isn’t fulfilling the performance expectations. The board member acknowledges the problem and offers his / her resignation. And you accept it with alacrity.

And if the board member isn’t smart enough to honestly see his/her performance, then the organization explains clearly and explains why resignation is necessary. That’s thank and release.

Hold board members accountable. Each board member holds himself / herself and the others accountable. Staff hold board members accountable, too. Hmmm… How can you do that better? List cumulative year-to-date attendance in every set of board meeting minutes. Try this approach: Alpha list with a parenthetical note stipulating year-to-date attendance. Here’s what this looks like:

  • Attending: Mary Black (4/5), Bob Dylan (3/5), Enya (4/5), Eartha Kitt (5/5), and Bruce Springsteen (1/5)
  • Unable to attend: Pete Seeger (1/5)

By the way, even if they’ve informed you of their inability to attend — you still don’t keep trustees who miss lots of meetings. You don’t want board members who travel so much, are so important that your organization’s board meeting isn’t important enough.

Recruit board members who are so committed to you that they rarely miss board meetings. Keep board members who are willing to inconvenience themselves for your organization.

For more, read my short book Firing Lousy Board Members – And Helping the Others Succeed. Carry the book around at board meetings. Make sure board members see the cover. Hmmm… Maybe that will launch an improvement revolution!

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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