Getting Rid of Bad Board Members

Many years ago, I inherited the board from--well, let's just say not a very good board. I really needed to fire almost all of them,but they were MY boss and if anyone was going to get fired, it was most likely going to be me. Fortunately, my board president agreed with my assessment of the board, and was determined to change things. And change he did.

First he informed the board that they would not longer be able to have their annual summer board bash, paid for by the organization. If they wanted to have a social event, they had to pay for it out of their own pockets.

The summer bash went away--as, eventually, did the Christmas party. He then told them that they had a responsibility to ensure that the organization had the financial wherewithal to meet it's mission. That meant that the board had to:

  • Make a significant annual gift
  • Get others to join with them in making a significant annual gift OR
  • They could fund it all out their own pockets.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of the board members decided it was time to disembark. In fact, by the end of the year, we had gone from 23 members down to 3, and it took two years to build back up to double digits.

Recently, one of my client needed to clean house--but there was no transformative leader on the board. The tack we took was very different.

Unable to make wholesale changes, we focused on bringing on new and much improved board members. The problem, of course, is that when you bring these folks in and they see how dysfunctional the rest of your board is, they often cease to be wonderful board additions. You could, faced with this problem, start a "leadership board," having that as a first step to being on the board. In this way, you are training potential members on their roles and expectations. By the time they ge on the board, they are indoctrinated and know what they need to do. You could also set about to re-educate your current board members, making sure they understand what they are supposed to do and then work closely with them to ensure that they actually do it.

Most likely, you will be successful with a combination of these tactics--education, re-education, replacement. But before you start, take the time to figure out why your board isn't where you would like them to be. And what will it take to turn them from bad board members to really good ones.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and build stronger, more engaged boards. Learn more at or email her at