Top Board Excuses (and How to Overcome Them)

Board members who are actively engaged with the nonprofit organizations they serve are fulfilling not only their responsibilities, but their legal duties as well. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. From red flags to worn out excuses, this column dives into common gripes we hear from board members and from chief executives who often feel exasperated by the issues they create.

Being a better board member means overcoming excuses for greater engagement. We hope this list inspires conversations and leads to stronger constructive partnerships.

  • We don’t need limit terms; board members can resign or just don’t nominate them again.

Term limits are healthy and considered a best practice. Strong recruitmentnominating, and onboarding processes are critical and if a board member is not fulfilling their obligations, they should step away or not be renewed. However, we are human and power dynamics are often at play. It can be very difficult to have an honest conversation with someone about “it’s time for you to go” when they have served for many years (and sometimes decades) because of the power (real or perceived) that they hold. When term limits are instituted and followed, it doesn’t become a question or referendum about the person.

  • We don’t need to fundraise; that’s not the type of board we are.

Every nonprofit board has a responsibility to ensure adequate financial resources, because every nonprofit board is first and foremost a governing board. Ancillary committees such as advisory councils or “friends of” committees do not replace the fundamental fiduciary role of board governance. Sometimes fundraising is challenging when the organization’s purpose is not clear or if fundraising training has not occurred, but that does not negate the overall responsibility to engage in resource development.

  • We don’t need to give financially; we give of our time.

Time is very important (see below) but it’s not enough. An engaged board gives in many ways, including personal financial contributions. It’s critical for nonprofits to report that 100% of their board contributes to the mission and the organization’s bottom line, but it’s more than checking the box that all board members give. It’s the knowledge that board members are sharing the burden of the budget and that they are shoulder-to-shoulder with staff in the effort to fulfill the mission. Board members can, and should, play a critical role with donor stewardship. When they can authentically say to a donor, “I give because…” the end result will be increased levels of support.

  • We don’t need to attend events; we’re all busy.

I get it, but who isn’t busy? We recommend that board members serve on no more than two boards at a time. When someone serves on three, four, and five or more boards all at once, it is impossible to make time for all that is needed and expected. Events can be revenue drivers, mission-centric programs, or community engagement strategies. Regardless of their intended outcome, they are a key activity of the organization. Board members should determine which events are the most important and add them to their calendars. Board members and the organization will be better for it.

  • We don’t need to advocate; we’re not allowed to by law.

We often say there is Advocacy with a big A (lobbying) and advocacy with a little a (education and outreach). Nonprofits classified as 501(c)(3) organizations must follow “little a” practices when they engage with elected officials. Board members should understand the importance of their role in speaking with elected officials as their voice matters and carries weight, especially when their nonprofit receives a substantial amount of funding from public entities. Check out our articles on advocacy part one and part two to learn more.

We hope this list helps to eliminate excuses and create a stronger culture, because engagement is critical to further the mission.

Article by:  Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO

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