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30 Oct

Out of Bounds

In my 20s, I was a young lawyer, and a board member and chair of the legal committee of the board. During my first year, a gentleman, who had been on the board for a long time, tore into me after I gave an unremarkable report at a board meeting. His words, tone and body language were so inappropriate that I was taken aback. Board members gasped and chastised him publicly.

I was savvy enough to understand that the board member who berated me wasn’t really upset with me and that I was missing key history or context to allow me to understand what was the true cause of his reaction. After the meeting, board members and the board president confirmed my suspicion that indeed he was upset with the president and saw my work as promoting and moving along the president’s plans (that is kind of the point). He was trying to re-litigate a decision that was already decided.

When the president called me to apologize, I informed him that the agitated board member would need to call me to apologize himself and make a statement at the next board meeting. This was not just for me because to be honest, I have pretty thick skin.

My feeling then – and today – remains that if we don’t treat board members with respect, they will disengage as board members, members and donors of the particular organization. Worse, they may be turned off from nonprofit service all together. This is a price that we can’t afford. We must call out board members who are disrespectful, and there needs to be consequences for bad behavior both towards each other and staff (more on this another day).

I got my phone call and apology. And I told the gentleman that if he really cared about the organization, he had a responsibility to treat all board members respectfully and to inspire and encourage young people to be on boards and serve on committees. He agreed. We moved on.

Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is founder and principal of Fridman Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and coaching for values-driven organizations and leaders. She is a frequent speaker, trainer, workshop presenter and facilitator. Nanette is the author of “On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service.”

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