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Abusive, Arrogant, Arrested, and Awful Board Members

By Michael Baker posted 03-25-2024 09:07


In more than 20 years of consulting with over 100 nonprofit organizations, I’ve seen my share of conflicts, chaffing personalities, and troublemakers serving as board members. 

Destructive behaviors are a choice, just like when we teach our children to make good decisions and good consequences will follow, make a poor decision, and negative consequences generally follow.

A board member’s sole purpose is to ensure the nonprofit’s success. For most individuals, they follow and lead to put the organization on a successful pathway. For a select few, their behaviors negatively impact the organizations they’re supposed to be helping!

Leadership of an organization starts at the top with the board of directors (sometimes known as trustees or members). Good leaders listen, provide tactful guidance, and encourage constructive dialogue all for the benefit of the organization.

A model board member is part of the team of leaders making smart decisions. Even when a vote for a particular policy or program has board members who voted “no” in the minority, it is expected they will respect the decision, not playing any roles to create conflict or cause heartburn.

When boards can’t reach a consensus, if not handled professionally, chaos can ensue. These examples I’m sharing unfortunately happened. Perhaps you will find a nugget in reading this that will help you solve a situation you are navigating.

Board members are mostly great but also make mistakes. When a mistake happens, corrective actions should be taken.

Brush With the Law
Working with a client, a board member was arrested for a white-collar crime. In the U.S., being arrested means innocent until proven guilty. In this case, the board member offered to resign. The Executive Committee sought help as to how to handle.

The advice provided was for the board member to take a leave of absence with every mention of the individual removed from all public-facing materials (website, letterhead, etc.).

When the legal matter was resolved, that would determine whether the individual would stay on the board or not. Additionally, the nonprofit asked the individual not to make any financial contributions. This decision was agreed to by the board and communicated to the board member.

That individual was grateful, and, in this case, the legal matter resolved. The individual was found not guilty and all charges were dropped. The individual rejoined the board and was so appreciative with how this issue was handled they were motivated to help the nonprofit. The individual made a major gift shortly after returning.

A Verbal Tyrant
In any setting verbal abuse is unacceptable. When a board chairperson was continually verbally abusive to board members, staff, and vendors, it became a major liability for the nonprofit.

After multiple public and non-public occasions of the board chairperson stepping over the line with their words, several people brought this behavior to this individual’s attention. The abuse persisted.

The board decided to ask the board chairperson to step down. It went as far as letting the individual know that the board was willing to, in public, hold a no confidence vote and all would be voting in favor of a no confidence vote. The individual decided to step down.

Arrogance in Action
Sometimes nonprofit organizations tolerate arrogant behavior from board members. In the case of a major campaign where a board member had a leadership role, that arrogance became a major problem. Many volunteers complained.

The board chairperson privately brought the issue to the board member’s attention. As uncomfortable as that conversation was, it was appreciated by the individual. They had no idea how they were coming across. The behavior changed, and the campaign was successful.

A Bruised Ego
Lastly, a nonprofit had a board member that didn’t agree with a strategy change.

That individual unsuccessfully lobbied other board members to try to stop the change. That individual was so upset they decided it was best to resign. The board chairperson accepted the resignation, and the nominating committee recruited another individual to serve the term.

Ingredients for Success
Effective board members are:

·       Willing to work

·       Able to provide wisdom

·       Well-connected

·       Financially able to contribute or connected to a network that is.

It is common for boards to have members missing one of these four characteristics. When that happens, it is a recipe for trouble.

High-performing boards are aligned and work strategically. As diverse, inclusive relationship builders, they support a culture of inquiry. Together, they create something far richer and more powerful than any one person can achieve alone.

As we think about engaging each other differently in the boardroom, we want to make sure we understand why. It’s not just for the sake of better conversations. It is because having information and asking the right questions lead to more robust discussions, more genuine debate, and better decisions.


The board’s sole purpose is to ensure the success of the organization.

Board members have a purpose, clear sense of role, and are accountable.

Board members usually come together for the collective good.

Board members and people deserve a second chance.

Quick communication of issues is paramount to handling those issues.

As a professional, always have a volunteer between you and the/a problem.



04-12-2024 11:46

What a fantastic article! It offers an amazing summary of the characteristics every board member should possess, serving as a valuable lesson for all of us striving to be the best consultants and board members we can be in our respective organizations. Thanks for sharing!