Voting a board member out

I’ve both served on and worked with several boards of directors that have some of the same members who started the organization—30 years later! I have heard them say, “We tried that ten years ago and it didn’t work.” And I wanted to slap them!

I’m not casting any personal aspersions on any of those people, but you gotta imagine that at least some board members (and maybe most) want that member, we’ll call him (or her) Jean, to be gone! Maybe Jean wants things to stay the way they were imagined in the very beginning. Maybe Jean just like being the “Father (or Mother) of the Organization.” What if Jean also carries the most of the institutional knowledge? That means whenever there is a question about how to do something, Jean gets to answer.

Here’s a short list of possible problems with the scenario:

  1. Nobody really wants to work with Jean, the know-it-all, but they’re stuck. Few people want to stand up to Jean because of the power s/he controls.
  2. Jean, by virtue of seniority, gets to control much of the conversation, the decisions and general direction of the organization. S/he might even have undue influence on who else might be elected to the board.
  3. It’s hard to get new board members when they hear about or witness Jean’s control; they run away!
  4. The organization can never really grow past its initial invention and can be in a real danger of stagnation at the least and collapse at worst.

If your bylaws make provisions for specific infractions of conduct that you can use to remove Jean—like missed meetings or an incomplete financial commitment—you might be able to get rid of him. But you might have to go through a pretty public process to do it.

One five-year-old organization I have worked with set up their election process to deal with a general “I-can’t-work-with-Jean” situation.

Here’s how it works

Half the board positions are re elected every other year to ensure continuity and to prevent a full change in the organization all at once. This method also eliminates the continuing conversation, “When is your term up?” President and Vice President as well as Secretary and Treasurer, for example, are elected in alternate years.

A simple majority of board members elects new/returning members. It means, essentially, that each person running is running against “NoBody.” And NoBody might win!

The nominations committee is responsible to find one person per position to be elected. While I have not been privy to the conversations of this nominating committee,   I’m thinking if they have a sense that Jean might not make the cut, they’ve probably been considering others to take her role. That person might run against Jean, or be appointed after the election to take Jean’s position.

This organization, after just five years, has a full new board of directors, free to move the organization on to the next stage of its growth. The old members are happy to offer advice when asked, but they’re not there to control the conversation and direction of the group.

Not many organizations have this system of elections. It would, no doubt, require a revision to your bylaws. But if you’re starting out, consider the possibility that you might have a Jean and prepare for it!

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