Here's What to Say When You Fire a Board Member

October 1, 2018
5 minutes
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Ok, Serious Subject Time. Let's have some real talk about your board of directors: How do you fire someone who's championed your organization? What should you say?

First, your board is great. They're the greatest, ok? But also? They're a handful. And there's that one... you know who we're talking about; the one who comes to meetings unprepared, forces issues that you already have under control, and wants veto power over things they shouldn't be touching. 

Or maybe it's the one who's soooo nice and gets the vision, and they've been on the board for a billion and a half years, but they want to keep things like they've always been and don't see any reason to do something different than your annual stuffy fundraising gala. 

Could it be that member who has best best best intentions but can never make it to the meetings? Or the events? And who struggles fulfilling their duties as a board member—fundraising, recruiting, supporting your organization's vision? 

Whoever you're thinking of, surely they have amazing qualities, which is why they're on the board in the first place. But being on a nonprofit board of directors isn't for everyone (trust us, we know!), and there's no shame in realizing that the work would get done better, faster, and with less drama if you could do it without them.

Keep in mind that while there may be reasons for a member's action or inaction, removing a board member is a step your entire board is taking... It's not just you being a meanie. Here are some ways you can begin the conversation once you decide to remove a board member.

Give the board member a different job.

Maybe you recognize their value to the org—as a volunteer—and you want them to stick around. Hand over a job you know they can do that would take some of the burden off your staff. 

Here's what that statement might look like:

"Janet, we've been fortunate to have you as a part of our organization, especially with all the expertise you have getting local movers and shakers interested in our life-changing work. In the coming year, we see you better utilized by moving away from your work as a board member and more as an outreach volunteer to the public. This means while you will not be offered a seat on the board in the upcoming year, you will still have considerable influence over our position within our community. Thank you again for your hard work! We look forward to collaborating with you in the future."

Ask the board member to step down.

This could be done at the end of a term as opposed to mid-term, which makes it kiiiinda better? No matter when you do it, this is an attempt to preserve the ties that you've built with this member while eliminating the adverse effects they've had on your board. 

Here's how you say it:

"Michael, I want to thank you for all the effort you've put forth toward our organization. We know the requirements to be a member of our board are strict—reaching our goals is a tough job! Even with that context, though, you haven't been successful in raising the amount of money required to retain a seat on the board, so our organization will not be offering you a seat for the upcoming fiscal year. Thank you again for your hard work, and we hope to continue our relationship with you as a donor or volunteer."

Tell the board member they're being removed.

This is a rough one, and should only be used when a board member is such an obstacle to achieving your organization's vision that they need to be fired. Yes, we said fired. 

Just say it:

"Regina, there's no denying that you're a force of nature. Unfortunately, during your time on our organization's board, we've seen some adverse effects: loss of donations due to incorrect communications, volunteer alienation, and total reduction of fundraising dollars. Taking all these factors into account, the board has voted to ​eliminate your position effective immediately. Thank you for the time and effort you've put toward our vision—we'll take over all projects and communications you've been tasked with."

If this person has a history of not taking a hint, you may want to add a note to the effect of, "This means you are no longer affiliated with our organization—you no longer hold a seat on the board, you may not attend our organization's events or approach our volunteers, and we ask that you not contact anyone associated with our organization." Obviously, this is a real bridge-burner!

We can't make this difficult, important decision for you—you have to decide who should and shouldn't be on your board, back up your conclusion, and get the ball rolling to remove non-beneficial board members—but Funraise is here to support you as you do the hard work to make your organization the best it can be.

Your organization deserves a kickass board. It's up to you to make it happen.

Sharing is caring, so if you know of someone who could use some backup as they handle board members, forward this blog post and pass along a link to our webinar "How to Build a Kickass Board" with nonprofit whisperer Erin Chidsey.

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