Get Out: “Thank And Release” Poor-Performing Board Members

Board members can be among your organization’s most outwardly facing presences. Their time and effort can influence elements as fundamental as programming, governance, messaging, and fundraising.

With that level of importance comes risk, however, and there might sometimes be situations in which the risk associated with a board member or the person’s poor performance might be greater than a potential reward. Such situations were part of Simone Joyaux of Joyaux Associates’ presentation “Firing Lousy Board Members” at the 2018 Fundraising Day in New York, sponsored by the New York City Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

There are numerous reasons why an organization’s leaders might consider firing a board member, an action that Joyaux refers to as “thank and release” — asking them to resign. These include scandals, the preservation of credibility, and the important role board members have at nonprofits. Before walking down the path of firing a board member, one might want to consider if the organization would take a similar action if a staff member were in that position and fundraising implications if the person is a key donor.

    Once the decision is made that it might be appropriate to “thank and release,” Joyaux suggested:

  • Don’t wait. If there is a problem, waiting for the board member’s term to end is not a solution;
  • Articulate what makes a board member “lousy.” This starts with understanding what makes a board member good and what is expected of him or her. Understand that a board member is not, by definition, a governance expert, the effects of group dynamics, and the difference between a board member and the board as an entity. Ask tough questions, act on your findings, and make sure that standards developed become organizational norms;
  • Enforce the standards that you have developed and set. Personal opinions and politics might potentially come up in this process. Do not be taken by them; and,
  • Keep things courteous. This individual volunteered for your organization, try to keep him or her committed to your cause. Be gracious and, if possible, help the board member in question save face.