Boards and Their Public Displays of Disaffection

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I am thrilled today to call your attention to a timely article by Vernetta Walker of BoardSource. Here, she takes up the responsibility of boards in guarding and promoting the reputations of their organizations as one of the organization’s most critical assets.

The reason why we think it’s so timely is because, while the phenomenon is certainly not new, there seems to have been a recent rash of boards that have created public crises around the organizations they steward. These crises can take the form of unexplained mass walkouts, or sudden executive transitions, or even the closing of community institutions with little or no notice.

This leaves communities reeling. Without information, how are they supposed to trust the action taken by a board—especially if, as in the case above of the organization’s closing, the decision was made by three exhausted people? If they see a whole board resign even with mollifying statements of support, how are they to donate comfortably? There are so many embedded issues here.

I do sense from tracking the news that some of what Vernetta calls “public displays of disaffection” are part of a larger distress experienced by many grassroots nonprofits still struggling to recover from the recession. My guess would be that some of those groups, even those that are badly needed, may become its permanent victims. Is this a natural culling of the herd, as some would argue? Or a reflection of the priorities and connections of institutional donors? In some cases, stakeholders insist that they would have been willing to help had they known, but this is an easy thing to say.

Are there organizations around you that would leave a hole if they went under but are clearly in need of support? Have there been closings or mass departures from local boards? Please keep us informed.