Nearly everyone accepts a position on a nonprofit board with hopes and dreams of making a difference. Most of the time, nonprofit board members happily fulfill their board terms and end their duties feeling good about the service they provided to their communities. While nonprofit organizations do a lot of good for communities, occasionally, board members have good reasons for wanting or needing to resign from a nonprofit board before their term is over.
The way that you approach your resignation is a reflection of your character. How the board accepts your resignation may be a vital step in helping them improve the functioning of the board as they move forward.
Reasons for Resigning From a Nonprofit Board
Are there ever any really good reasons to resign from a board before the end of your term? There can be.
Before accepting a position on a nonprofit board, board candidates need to consider their reasons for accepting the position. They need to be sure that they’re serving for the public good without regard to what they may gain from their service. Be aware that the board speaks with one voice. Even if a member has the lone dissenting vote, the majority rules and all board members must be willing to accept the group’s decisions as their own. Nonprofit board directors also must value their fellow board members’ service as much as they want their own service to be valued.
Following are some of the more common reasons that cause nonprofit board members to resign.
Not Being Willing or Able to Fulfill Your Board Duties
Nonprofit board members have a fiduciary duty to place the organization’s interest above their own. They must come to all board meetings unless something extremely important prevents them from doing so.
Board duties include spending adequate time reviewing financial reports and reports on other agenda items. Best practices for nonprofit boards hold the expectation that board members will contribute their money, time and personal connections to the organization.
Board members should also spend non-meeting time thinking about ways to advance the nonprofit’s mission and be willing to share their ideas with the board.
Regardless of the reasons that nonprofit board members aren’t fulfilling the duties described above, the fact of not being an active board member is a valid reason for resigning.
Nonprofit board members should avoid conflicts of interest. This means they can’t have a financial interest in a transaction with a person or organization where they stand to benefit financially. Board members who have regular conflicts of interest may want to resign in order to uphold the integrity of the nonprofit’s reputation.
While the organization’s cause may be one that a board member is passionate about, the organization may hold values and activities that are inconsistent with a board member’s personal or professional values. Especially when circumstances indicate that a nonprofit isn’t operating consistent with the law, nonprofit board members may choose to resign rather than be party to illegal or unethical activities.
Nonprofit boards are as different as the organizations and communities they serve. Poor board dynamics and lack of collaboration may make it too difficult for some board directors to provide meaningful service.
Nonprofit boards where one or two people run the show and don’t inform the rest of the board about results, activities and important events make it impossible for some nonprofit board members to succeed. This type of situation doesn’t support good governance because it doesn’t present the board with opportunities to explore multiple perspectives on issues. By contrast, board members who feel they’re stronger than the majority of other board members may be unable to accept the contributions of others and either limit or deny their input. This may cause others to see them as overbearing and dismissive, which is counterproductive in board meetings. Poor board dynamics can also develop when a few board members aren’t attending meetings regularly and don’t actively participate in meetings and other events. Bad board dynamics don’t help the organization or anyone in it, and that’s a good reason for a board member to resign.
How to Approach Nonprofit Board Member Resignations
The resignation of a nonprofit board member will most likely leave an imprint on the resigning director, the rest of the board and possibly the organization as well. The easy approaches are to say nothing at all or make a weak excuse and just leave. Unfortunately, that won’t help the remaining board members to understand whether there were any problems that caused you to leave and it won’t help them improve things as they move forward. It’s usually best to be truthful about the reasons for the resignation. It’s an approach that will also have more meaning for the resigning member.
Before offering a formal resignation, it’s best to raise your concerns to the board president. It’s possible that the rest of the board isn’t aware of the concerns. It’s also possible that other board members may have some of the same concerns, and voicing them at the juncture of resignation may bring those concerns out in the open, providing an opportunity for the board to discuss and resolve them.
If your reason for leaving the board is that you just feel out of step with the other board directors, it’s best to admit that. If you feel like there isn’t enough room for you to make a meaningful contribution to the board, just say so.
In the event that the problem lies with you, be willing to admit that you haven’t been willing or able to fulfill your responsibilities to your expectations and let them know that you don’t want to let the board or the organization down. Perhaps try to ease the transition by agreeing to wrap up any loose ends and offering a few final volunteer hours.
There are a couple of acceptable ways to resign from a nonprofit board of directors. One way is to write a letter to the board and ask to read it out loud at your final board meeting. The board should include your letter as part of the board meeting minutes.
The other way is to follow the proper chain of command. Tell the board chair first, then the executive director and then the whole board. It’s also appropriate to bring the board some cookies or other token of appreciation for the time that you spent serving on the board together.
Board Portals Are a Valuable Tool for Succession Planning
Boards go through predictable board development cycles. Nominating and governance committees can be instrumental in developing a pipeline of board candidates that becomes a valuable aid in succession planning. A board portal, such as that provided by BoardEffect, provides an electronic platform in which boards can monitor all stages of board member development, including recruiting, nominating, orientation, onboarding, continuing board education and board resignations. BoardEffect’s portal is a secure online space that’s highly secure for confidential board discussions.
BoardEffect’s board portal streamlines many governance processes so boards can focus on their duties and responsibilities.