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Avoiding Bad Board Syndrome

Bad Board Syndrome: A dysfunctional board that can

destroy a nonprofit organization and ruin its reputation.

Nonprofits rely on their boards for governance, financial oversight, and many other resources. Having a well-prepared and trained board means the nonprofit can better serve their community.


Working with and understanding board dynamics is a big part of our work with clients. Keeping up with the latest research and articles on this subject is one way we help our nonprofit clients and their boards be better positioned to work well together.


Here are five areas where leadership can help guide their board of directors:

Recruitment: What is the most important skill or trait that a board member needs? Empathy. Yes, empathy. This is a skill that can be learned, but not everyone does. An effective board consists of people who value each other’s opinions and make decisions based on what is best for the organization. An empathic person makes an effective board member.


Onboarding: Successful onboarding is more than giving a new board member the bylaws and a handshake. They need to feel welcomed and have a purpose. Having a mentor or “board buddy” can make all the difference between commitment and disengagement.


Training: To be an effective board member takes more than an onboarding session, a tour of the facilities, and an annual retreat. One method is to provide “bite-size” information at each board meeting. This could be “mission moments” where different staff briefly speak about their program or job. It could also be information on how board committees need to function. This is an on-going process that the leadership and the board chair can plan for the year.



The best way to keep a board meeting on track is to match all agenda items to the primary goals of the strategic plan. A To Do List or examples of how board members can move forward on strategic goals would also be helpful.

There is no way around staff involvement in preparing for a board meeting, but the process can be streamlined. Using report templates, consent agendas, and collaborative software are just a few examples to use.

Have the board packet ready for board members two weeks prior to the meeting. Send an executive summary in a separate email.


Stewardship: Board members are your inner circle of donors, and they require your attention as much as any other donor. An Executive Director/CEO may spend as much as 25-30% of their time working with board members. This is an important part of the leader’s time so long as the efforts benefit the organization.


By working proactively and collaboratively with your organization’s board, you can leverage all the available resources and talents to help your mission.


Michelle Crim, CFRE


Dynamic Development Strategies can help. We offer coaching, grant writing, and fundraising services for our nonprofit clients. We specialize in small to mid-size organizations because we understand your challenges. Please contact us for more information.

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