One of My Pet Peeves: Absenteeism

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Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE is recognized internationally as an expert in fund development, board and organizational development, strategic planning, and management. She is the founder and director of Joyaux Associates. Visit her website here.


Honestly, I am so annoyed at the absenteeism I see amongst board members. Either get it together, you board members, or get off the board.

Right now, I’m talking to board members. Read this column! A good board member regularly attends board meetings. Corporate governance only happens when board members are together at board meetings.

Maybe you’re a great donor and a helpful volunteer. But you have to attend board meetings to be a good board member. And you have to read the material in advance and bring it to the board meeting. No extra copies should be provided at board meetings! And you have to talk at board meetings…participating in strategic conversation.

I’m very tired of bad board members. I’m very tired of poor attendance at board meetings. Hey, board members out there: Do you know what your job is? Click on Resources and visit the Free Download Library at Read your performance expectations as a board member! Read the job of the board. And remember, both of these documents are transferrable to any nonprofit boards.

I’ll bet board members don’t even know how many meetings they’ve missed. Here’s a great idea from the Women & Family Life Center, Guilford, CT: Instead of listing “present,” “absent,” “excused” at the top of the minutes…. Put a grid there. List all your board members in alphabetic order in the vertical column. Across the top, in the horizontal row, list all board meeting dates for the year. Then mark attendance.

There it is… A nice visual representation of how many meetings each board member has attended so far this year. Everyone can see how everyone else is doing. Each board member can hold his or her fellow board members accountable.

Don’t distinguish between excused and unexcused absences. That really doesn’t matter. If someone misses lots of meetings – whether or not excused – you don’t want them on the board. And anyway, what’s a decent excuse?

 “I’m sick and I don’t want to breath on the rest of you.” Okay. That’s a good excuse.

“It’s my life partner’s birthday and we want to celebrate together.” Too bad. Celebrate another day. Go to the board meeting.

 “That’s the week I’m on vacation and that’s the only week my job would allow me to take vacation.” Okay. That’s a good excuse. But if you can control your vacation time, don’t always pick it for the week of the board meeting!

Serving on a board is serious business. We need serious people who take this seriously – and who will inconvenience themselves to serve.

Now I’m talking to the Governance Committee, or whatever you call it. This committee is charged not only with nominations and elections. This committee is in charge of board health and board and board member performance. So a representative of the Governance Committee talks to board members about their performance, and that includes attendance. Remind the poorly performing board member of the performance expectations. Hold board members accountable.

And what’s bad attendance? Missing 40% of more of meetings is bad. Missing 30% of board meetings is not as bad. But I want 75% attendance by each board member over the course of the year.

One final thought, a really big one. And now I’m talking to the staff. Make the board meetings interesting. Your board members are like a think tank of wise and expert people. (Or else you have the wrong board members.) Your board gets together to examine quality information that staff puts together – and this information is translated into trends and implications by the staff. Staff helps board members explore strategic questions. And certainly the CEO, a peer to the board and its members, participates in the conversation.

I wonder why your board members are absent? Lousy board members or lousy staff designing lousy board meetings?

For more about boards, read my weekly blogs and visit the Free Download Library at And fix it! Now!


  • doug

    Great post… really lights the fire for all of us.. love ther grid idea