If you have served in the non-profit or church community for any length of time, you have likely run into a situation where the governing board of your organization (or one of its committees or sub-boards) faces open seats. By open seats, in this case, we do not mean merely the need to elect new people to fill positions. We are focusing on those gaps that appear between the bylaws- or constitution-mandated positions and the total number of actual bodies duly elected and seated. In other cases, the board elects enough people but then never sees certain people, despite their names being on the list.
In my experience, when an organization’s board reaches that point, it also has on its board at least one person – if not even a majority – who are board do-nothings. The absence begins not with those who don’t show up, or who don’t even volunteer in the first place, or don’t answer the nomination, but with those who are actually on the board itself.
Often, I have heard boards lament the fact that no one wants to help them, and they can’t find qualified people. Then, most of the meetings they hold are focused on the lament of “why can’t we get more people to do what they are supposed to do and HELP?!?” Board members feel like they are sacrificing for the cause, but no one else is stepping up. The problem is that, in many cases, their sacrifice is almost for nothing because they are pouring their energy into priorities that will not achieve their ends.
The empty seat, warm-body or theoretically-seated-but-never-present-member situation is often the fruit of long years of lack of clear vision clouded by micromanagement that cannot marshal the drive to win others to the cause or purpose behind the organization. In addition, it is a sign of a chronic lack of board discipline and fuzzy understanding of the purpose of governance.
Nevertheless, the status quo is often more comfortable than the risk of change, even in these situations. This situation has to be working for someone for it to continue – even if it is just to reinforce that person’s image of the larger problem the organization is tasked with solving.
Design Group International has consultants available to do a governance review – both bylaws and board process. Click the link below to contact us about how we might work together!