I’m bored with boards

Bored Board

I know, it’s a sweeping generalization. Not all boards are boring or stagnant. But many are. Rather than complaining, I decided to take a critical look at my point of view.

My doggone millennial daughter

Geeez. I’m finding it hard to hold my own when they graduate from college full of new ideas and a bent for critical thinking.

We had a robust conversation last night about philanthropy, the nonprofit sector, and everything that’s wrong with it. That inspired this post.

She was a bit naïve about some things and spot on about others. I found myself defending a broken system and nonprofits that mean well yet don’t get measurable results.

I said with authority that the sector needs people like her to step in and shake things up. That didn’t seem to help.cage rattling

By the end of the conversation, I found myself tired of the status quo and “bored with boards.”

It breaks my heart that this amazing young woman with great ideas and the energy to make them happen is alienated by the sector. 

What I do know is that the only way forward is to have these kinds of conversations. We all learn.

The Truth of the Matter

In my work with nonprofits, I see that many board members are devoted and work tirelessly for those they serve.

Fundraising has evolved in a big way. There is a body of knowledge that is well researched, tested, and respected. Many boards are wildly successful.

The truth is, it’s really hard work – not for the thin-skinned.

Overseeing and taking the ultimate responsibility for real people in your community is daunting. 

This is not to mention honoring and taking good care of the donors and institutional funders that make it all possible. 

So what does it take to open the floodgates to change?

4 Ways to Abolish Boring Boards  

1.  Meet them where they’re vulnerable – get real data.

Form a cool 21st century Sacred Cow Team. Ask someone like my daughter to join.

Know that this will lead to information that you don’t want to know. Be ready to wake up, get angry, and do something about it.

Vulnerability, humility, and courage is what leadership is all about. Lead like this and people will follow.

The mission: look at demographic data, community trends, and the facts about how your programs are really working. Peter Drucker’s 5 Most Important Questions is a great tool to use.

Data, Data, Data. No feelings allowed. shutterstock_131290649

Get fired up and recruit the ED, 2 credible board members, and at least 2 outside people that are smart, data oriented, and not biased. This is an exciting project with a beginning, middle and end.

View it as an off-shoot of strategic planning. If you’ve got a plan, it’s a check up. If you don’t have a plan, it’s advance work.

This will not be boring or scary for people that are data-driven. Is your organization headed in the right direction? Are your programs really working like you say they do? What an amazing opportunity to create change. And measure it.

2.  Share the data with the board and offer support.

Great encouragement comes with investment. “I believe in this organization so much, I’m willing to use this information and do something with it.” If high-level volunteers and a few board members come forward with this attitude, others will follow.

3. Ask cage-rattling questions.

I wrote a post about this inspired by Simone Joyaux. Embrace difficult conversations and get pissed. That’s where energy and passion live.


The people that take this seriously and stay on the board will be unstoppable.

4.  Coach with care. 

Whatever your role, offer support. Great encouragement breaks down what’s next into attainable steps. And, learn how to self-coach. There’s lots written about it and it works.

My friend Julia Wilson shared this poem in a Facebook post this morning. She is the executive director of OneJustice. And for the record, she’s an attorney and not touchy feely by nature. She cares deeply.


“That morning when I find myself weeping on the drive to the airport when I realize how excited I am to be going to work this morning and this feeling rushes over me until I’m a quivering, defenseless lump in the face of the force of gratitude that is coursing through my body (and dare I say, soul) because I am truly irrationally undeservingly, unbelievably blessed – and I am so overcome that I almost have to pull over and can only force out a small, breathless whisper (dare I say, prayer) of “thank you”? Yep. That morning.”

Can you imagine feeling this way?

Tricia Dell is a fundraising coach, facilitator, and strategist for nonprofit organizations. Learn more at triciadell.com and follow her on twitter @triciadell.

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