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The Top 10 Reasons You Should NOT Serve on a Nonprofit Board

Nonprofit Board service is a serious privilege and honor – it shouldn’t be taken lightly.  When you decide to serve on a Board of Directors please consider your motivating driving force.  Ask yourself, “Why am I serving on this Board?” “Why is this worth my time, talent, and treasure?”  “Why am I willing to make this a priority in my life?”   Hopefully your answers have something to with service beyond self, a noble worthy cause, or greater common good.

Over the years we’ve discovered some other reasons that people serve on Boards – reasons that often result in turmoil, dysfunction, and unhealthy conflict for the individual Board member and the Board as a body.   We consider these the Top 10 Reasons NOT to serve on a Nonprofit Board:

  1. Because the Executive Director is my friend.
  2. Because I feel sorry for their clients.
  3. Because I don’t have any power in any other area of my life and I need a place to exert my influence.
  4. Because my ego needs some stroking.
  5. My resume needs updating.
  6. Because I used to work here as an employee and now I’m coming back as a Board member to repay the Executive Director for all the mess he put me through.
  7. Because my family member needs the services provided and I want to make sure I’m in position to steer resources their way.
  8. Because I’m the founder of the organization and I have to ensure they keep doing it the way I’ve always done it.
  9. Because it’s a charity and their expectations won’t be that demanding on me.
  10. Because we get to go on annual retreats to some really nice places.


There are many inspiring and noteworthy reasons for Board service.  Spend some time self-reflecting and ask yourself – “Why am I really here?”  – The answer will usually explain our actions or lack thereof.   Nonprofits need motivated, engaged, committed Board members who serve for selfless reasons, not selfish.  Serve for the right reasons and your service will make a difference.

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What do CEO’s Expect from Nonprofit Board Members???

Recently we facilitated a conversation on Great Governance.  Nothing unusual about the topic, but there was something unusual about the audience.  The audience wasn’t filled with Board members.  It was filled with Executive Directors, CEO’s, or other Executive Management team members of nonprofits.

One the questions we explored centered on their definition of Great Governance and how that definition shaped what they expect from their Board members.  Here are a few of their responses:

What are some characteristics of Great Governance? How does this shape what you expect from your Board?
Accountability We expect Board members to be accountable for what they say they’re going to do.Uphold their own standards and hold each other accountable.

Also hold me accountable as well.  How can they hold me accountable if they won’t even complete my annual evaluation?


Stewardship They’re stewards of the public’s resources.I expect them to honor that stewardship and take their jobs seriously.


Engagement Don’t just attend meetings.Be engaged and participate. Provide feedback and input.

Question the status quo.


Financial Support Give at a sacrificial level.Get others to give. Lead the way and pave the path for others to give.


Advocate Speak for those that don’t have a “voice”.Promote and advance the message and cause of the agency in all of their circles of influence.


What Great Governance characteristics would you add to this list?  Remember Great Governance is evident by the performance of the Board.  Here are some questions for you and your Board to consider:

  1. How do we define performance for individual board members?
  2. How do we define performance for the Board collectively?
  3. Are we (individually and collectively) performing at a Great Governance level?
  4. What will we do to ensure we’re continually improving our performance?

Hope this helps improve the performance for you and your Board.


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