A few days ago I spoke to a nonprofit marketing person who told me about his painful board meeting. Rich had attended a board meeting for his charity, and instead of it being a productive and collegial meeting, it was more like an inquisition.

“When it was my turn to speak about a new marketing campaign we were planning for Giving Tuesday, I thought it was going to be a relatively easy discussion. There are bigger issues we’re dealing with in the organization,” Rich said.

He continued, “Next thing you know, I’m standing in front of the board room making my presentation, and a board member starts telling me she doesn’t like the font type of the samples I showed. She also didn’t like the images used. And from there, we moved into a twenty-minute discussion about the look of the campaign.”

I asked what the executive director said.

“Not much,” Rich replied, “He just sat there and let me deal with it.”

My question to you, the reader, is this: Have you seen this before at your board meeting?

I’m guessing you have.

I asked Rich if this board member was just having an off-day or if she had a habit of inserting herself into responsibilities of the staff. Not surprisingly, he told me that she was a “disrupter.”

What do you do about that board member who doesn’t provide constructive and strategic input and ends up making things more difficult at the board and, particularly, at the management level?

Well, my first instinct is to wonder about the executive director’s lack of defense for his team, but that’s for another post.

There is something you can do to sideline disruptive board members diplomatically––assuming they warrant this kind of honor and treatment. You can set up an emeritus group of board members.

Who are Emeritus Nonprofit Board Members?

Emeritus board members do not have any voting privileges on boards, and the intention of the emeritus status is to give honor to exceptional members. In the case of Rich, this particular board member had been with the organization since its founding. Additionally, the board member was one-half of a power couple that provided the nonprofit with $100,000 annually. As disruptive as the board member was in Rich’s mind, he did concede that she cared very much about the nonprofit.

While creating an emeritus designation for board members is not something to be used individuals who have not served with distinction, it is certainly something that can and should be considered for any nonprofit for those members who have significantly helped the organization (even if they have been a handful to manage).

Benefits of Having Emeritus Board Members

There are some reasons to create a small body of emeritus nonprofit board members for your organization, and they include the following:

  • It honors the founder of a nonprofit and helps diffuse “founder’s syndrome,” which is when the time has passed that a founder should gracefully exit the organization he or she founded.
  • It allows board members who have been instrumental in the creation or development of the organization to be honored and remain connected.
  • If respected board members have been major donors, it helps encourage continued financial support by the emeritus members and their families.
  • It provides an opportunity for emeritus board members to create a bridge for their legacy.

In my experience, not many nonprofits (particularly the small or medium sized ones) have emeritus board members. However, it’s something any organization should consider because it can be beneficial in many ways, both for the organization and the board members who become emeritus.


Author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: Grip & Rip Leadership for Social Impact” (Free Digital Download)

© 2017 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.