Nonprofit Boardroom Elephants and the “Nice Guy” Syndrome: A Complex Problem

Nonprofit Boardroom Elephants and the “Nice Guy” Syndrome: A Complex Problem

By: Eugene Fram

At coffee recently a friend serving on a nonprofit board reported plans to resign from the board shortly. His complaints centered on the board’s unwillingness to take critical actions necessary to help the organization grow.

In specific, the board failed to take any action to remove a director who wasn’t attending meetings, but he refused to resign. His term had another year to go, and the board had a bylaws obligation to summarily remove him from the board. However, a majority of directors decided such action would hurt the director’s feelings. They were unwittingly accepting the “nice-guy” approach in place of taking professional action.

In another instance the board refused to sue a local contractor who did not perform as agreed. The “elephant” was that the board didn’t think that legally challenging a local person was appropriate, an issue raised by an influential director. However, nobody informed the group that in being “nice guys,” they could become legally liable, if somebody became injured as a result of their inaction.

Over the years, I have observed many boards with elephants around that have caused significant problems to a nonprofit organization. Some include:

• Selecting a board chair on the basis of personal appearance and personality instead of managerial and organizational competence. Be certain to vet the experience and potential of candidates carefully
• Failure to delegate sufficient managerial responsibility to the CEO because the board has enjoyed micromanagement activities for decades. Make certain new directors recognize the problem, and they are willing to take action to alleviate it.
• Engaging a weak local CEO because the board wanted to avoid moving expenses. Be certain that local candidates are vetted as carefully as others and that costs of relocation are not the prime reason for their selection
• Be certain that the board is not “rubber-stamping” proposals of a strong director or CEO. Where major failures occur, be certain that the board or outside counsel determines the causes by conducting a post mortem analysis.

What can be done about the elephant in the boardroom?

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to use, no pun intended! These types of circumstances seem to be in the DNA of volunteers who traditionally avoid any form of conflict, which will impinge upon their personal time or cause conflict with other directors. A cultural change is required to recruit board members who understand director responsibilities, or are willing to learn about them on the job. I have seen a wide variety of directors such, as ministers and social workers, successfully meet the challenges related to on the job learning.

In the meantime, don’t be afraid to ask naive question which forces all to question assumptions, as in Why are we doing the particular thing? Have we really thought it through and considered other possibilities? http://bit.ly/1eNKgtw

Directors need to have passion for the organization’s mission. However, they also need to have the prudence to help the nonprofit board perform with professionalism.

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10 comments

  1. Well said Gene. Boards that shirk their responsibilities in this manner are doing a disservice to their organizations. When the duties are glossed over the organization becomes complacent and ineffective and everyone is effected in a negative way.

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    1. Gerald; Thanks for you note. Receiving a lot of interest view on this one. Already nearly 200 with some indications it has gone viral.

      Like

  2. A true board orientation where the responsibilities and duties of all board members are clearly conveyed, sometimes by the associations legal counsel, really helps prevent some of this.

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    1. Heather: I agree!! But the information needs to be reinforced at times when pertinent issues may arise. You also may be interested in these articles and links:
      Blog site http://bit.ly/yfRZpz Book: http://amzn.to/eu7nQl

      http://bit.ly/OvF4ri http://bit.ly/13Dsd3v

      frameugene@gmail.com

      The nonprofit governance model in the book is based on: building trust between the board and management, eliminating redundant board committees; eliminating board micromanagement; focusing the board on policy & strategy and having a robust board evaluation focused on outcomes and impacts, not processes. It has been adopted or adopted by thousands of nonprofit boards.

      Many ways book can be used: Adopt or adapt the model; Reference source for board issues; Training tool board development; Motivational tool for director engagement; Reference to understand board governance & compliance obligations

      Like

  3. Well said! As a volunteer resources manager, I have often remarked that our profession suffers from terminal niceness. Yes, one can fire a volunteer who is not performing the functions he or she agreed to–even if that volunteer happens to be a board member. I have seen more than one nonprofit fail because of the nice guy syndrome. Nancy Gaston

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. You may be interested in these articles and links, if you have not already seen them. Blog site http://bit.ly/yfRZpz Book: http://amzn.to/eu7nQl

      http://bit.ly/OvF4ri http://bit.ly/13Dsd3v

      frameugene@gmail.com

      The nonprofit governance model in the book is based on: building trust between the board and management, eliminating redundant board committees; eliminating board micromanagement; focusing the board on policy & strategy and having a robust board evaluation focused on outcomes and impacts, not processes. It has been adopted or adopted by thousands of nonprofit boards.

      Many ways book can be used: Adopt or adapt the model; Reference source for board issues; Training tool board development; Motivational tool for director engagement; Reference to understand board governance & compliance obligations

      Like

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