I serve on the board of a non-profit. I am growing increasingly uncomfortable with the practices of our board president and am not sure what to do.
First, she’s a bully and people are afraid of her. When she encounters people who do not agree with her, they quickly become deemed “inappropriate” and are “managed out”. She selectively obeys or disregards rules based on preference: she will follow the by-laws when they work for her or will disregard them when they don’t. She paints herself as the resident expert on all things related to by-laws and will not entertain questioning or dissent.
I also believe the organization is dying. Membership has plummeted for a variety of reasons, some have to do with her leadership, others have to do with the fact that the organization (as it now stands) is not relevant or serving its membership. General membership is complacent, so there are not many who are willing to step up into leadership roles (which works very well for her).
There’s part of me that just wants to cut and run, but yet another that seeks ethical leadership. I feel like I’m in a bad version of “The Wizard of Oz”, have peeked behind the curtain to reveal the little man who deeply needs for people to believe that he is “the great and powerful Oz” but is really just a regular guy on a power-trip.
Don’t Want to be a Flying Monkey
The Nonprofiteer thinks you may have done what we in the news biz call “burying the lede.” If the organization is not relevant or serving its membership, it’s going to die regardless of the quality of its leadership. What we want to determine is, which is cause and which is effect?
If the organization changed leadership, could/would it return to serving its members and therefore being relevant to them? In other words, has Oz collapsed based on the weight of the Wizard’s tyranny, or has it just figured out that an economy based on dyeing her eyes to match her gown is unsustainable?
If the latter—if the group’s original purpose no longer matters, if its original services are no longer of value—it’s not worth remaining on the Board to fight over the corpse. Unless you suspect the Board president is actually stealing, you’d be best off drafting a letter of resignation highlighting the decreasing value of the group in hopes that at least the “easily manipulated” faction will follow you off the Board. (If you DO suspect the Board president of stealing, of course, you should report her and the organization to your state’s Attorney General.)
But if there’s a living, breathing organism under this shroud of bad leadership (the Nonprofiteer is hot for the metaphors today), then it’s worth meeting with that selfsame group of the easily manipulated and doing a little manipulating yourself. Outline to them what you think the group should be doing and how the Board president prevents that from happening, and propose a palace revolution. If you don’t yet have the numbers to de-throne the President, take over the Nominating Committee and bring on some strong and thoughtful outsiders. Once you have the majority, you can turn her out of office.
(It’s poor practice, by the way, to have current officers serve on the Nominating Committee; regular directors are supposed to run the recruiting show, with a possible assist from the retiring President. If your President wants to be on the NomComm, ask if that means she’s planning to retire.)
But the Nonprofiteer cautions that a successful coup is likely to result in your serving as the group’s President. If the organization isn’t one to which you want to devote an enormous amount of time, don’t start stirring the pot; just get out of the kitchen.