You Might Have A Dysfunctional Board If…

You can't make this stuff up.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Little did I know that my blog post, True Tales of a Dysfunctional Board would strike such a chord with my readers. Or with my colleagues in various LinkedIn groups.

I should have known. Organizational leadership on both the staff and board sides consider it sport to criticize the lack of engagement of their boards.

But that’s in private. With people you know and trust. Surely people wouldn’t be willing to share their stories publicly, right? I mean, when it comes to sharing stories of bad board behavior, it seems to me there’s a pretty big leap between kvetching to your spouse over a martini versus sharing publicly with the world.

So when I offered the following fill-in-the-blank question in varying LinkedIn groups, I figured no one would respond.

“You might have a dysfunctional board if…?”

Oh no!

Turns out, not only are people willing to share stories of bad board behavior, most of them are perfectly willing to do it out in the open.

And some of them even gave me permission to post them here. This ought to be fun!


You might have a dysfunctional board if…  board members are told that fundraising is not part of their engagement.

– Frank Pasquini, Professional Fundraising Counsel

You might have a dysfunctional board if… the board approves every single thing the Executive Director plans.

– Susan Detwiler, Nonprofit Consultant

You might have a dysfunctional board if… your Board President says “the only people I have ever led is my family.”

– Anonymous (OK, not EVERYONE was willing to say who he/she was)

You might have a dysfunctional board if… the board chair is the executive director’s best friend.

– Bonnie Osinski, Fundraising consultant and coach

You might have a dysfunctional board if you ask the board to make a significant fundraising effort for a milestone anniversary and they vote to plant flowers.  

– Paula Brown, Executive Director at Reading Works

You might have a dysfunctional board if… the board doesn’t respond to a motion to adjourn.

– Nancy Alexander, Consultant

You might have a dysfunctional board if the board president sends their executive director flowers on secretary’s day and isn’t being ironic.

– Carol Weisman, President of Board Builders

You might have a dysfunctional board if…  your board chairs says, “Bylaws schmylaws. I don’t even know what they mean, or why we need them.” 

– Marchelle Sellers, Executive Director, Mending Kids International

You might have a dysfunctional board if… your board chair, in a discussion about trimming costs, asks how old your assistant is.

– Margot Knight, Executive Director of Djerassi Resident Artists Program

You might have a dysfunctional board if… they show up at the wrong location for a standing monthly board meeting. They are always held at the same location.

– Anonymous


OK, so it’s plenty easy to criticize the board. They never can do enough, they are never engaged enough, and they never provide sufficient support.

But let’s not forget whose board this is.

It’s yours. You as the executive director. You as the board chair. If your board is dysfunctional, who is to blame?

Short answer:  you.

Remember one thing every time you kvetch about your board:  The board you have is the board you build.

So while you may have had a good chuckle or a big gasp, do keep in mind that your fingerprints can be traced to this dysfunction. And they can also be traced to a rebuilding that creates a board your organization needs and deserves.


All these folks were willing to share their stories. Now it’s your turn. In the comments,  join the conversation and add your own stories of bad board behavior.

And then, if you haven’t already done so, consider subscribing to my email list. I only send one email each week when new content is ready. If you’re a leader at a nonprofit (board or staff), I write just for you!

So click here, enter your email address, and then make sure to hit the “subscribe” button in the confirmation email you’ll get.

See you soon!