The Board Member Who Got Away

He is exactly the kind of board member you want:  affluent, influential, and willing to share his network.  But he’s not going to serve on any nonprofit board soon. Why?Empty Boardroom

Well, after talking to a number of organizations, his sense was that by and large nonprofits don’t want anyone to actually DO anything unless the doing is raising money.  What they want is someone to rubber stamp everything staff is or wants to do, and that is not his style.

"I don’t want to run day-to-day operations,” he told me.  “But I do want to know about the programs—are they well-run, financially viable?  Does the staff keep up-to-date in the field? Is the office efficient?”

But most of the organizations don’t want their board members to ask too many questions, look behind too many curtains.  They want them to sit placidly through the reading of reports that could have, should have, been sent before the meeting and then to vote yes.  To the degree they want any activity, it is typically connected to fundraising, but not linked to anything the board member should be raising funds for.

On the for-profits where he serves, he told me, the board regularly grapples with important issues.  They talk about product, marketing, management.  They think about growth, or the lack thereof.  They offer their experience, their expertise, their advice.  They are involved in the company.  They feel an ownership in its success.

It’s that last part that too often is missing from our relationships with our board members.  We ask them to do things FOR us, rather than being PART of who we are.  We keep them in the board room, looking at our carefully prepared reports that tells them what we want them to know.  We push them to the side rather than invite them to come inside.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, moving them from mired to inspired.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet at to arrange for your free 30 minute consultation.