What Happens When Your Board Member Gets Sick?
Every day, my team and I have the chance to speak to many nonprofit leaders. And there's one thing that we've realized during this most uncertain of years. There's been much disruption and chaos. Some nonprofits have nearly thrown their hands up in the air, waiting for next year. However, there is an immense need for nonprofit programs and fundraising ideas and revenue.
On top of it, some nonprofits have had to move forward without their board members' support as they have dealt with personal issues. One small social good organization with a low operating budget has also dealt with a very sensitive issue, a challenging medical diagnosis of a valuable member of its board. Moreover, the board member has served as an energizing force. He helped the group raise many five-figure donations because of his connections in the business world.
Remarkably, whispers started among some board members to respectfully ask the person who got sick to resign or become an emeritus member. The rationale for prospective removal of the board member is because there is an immense need for fundraising dollars, and because of the bylaws, some would like to recruit a replacement to fill the fundraising gap.
I don't know about you, but that's harsh treatment of someone, in my opinion. But I wonder what you would do as a nonprofit leader. Let's say you had a similar circumstance, and there was an immense need for revenue because the community depends now more than ever on your program services.
Consideration for Asking an Incapacitated Board Member to Resign
I would support the board member through his medical timeout and recovery. However, let's look at both sides of the issue, as seen through one organization's microcosm. First, let's look at the board members who believe the sick person should be asked to resign because they feel they are responsible for the nonprofit's financial security.
The nonprofit organization has a minimum donation policy for its board members as part of their legal responsibilities, which is a significant portion of the overall operating revenue. The sick board member did not fulfill his financial commitment, and there was no discussion about whether it would be possible under the circumstances. Moreover, the board member's illness made another dent in revenue because none of the gifts he secured above and beyond his contribution came to a grinding halt.
Finally, the bylaws of the organization stipulate that when a board member can't meet their role expectations, they need to prepare to leave their seat when the annual meeting happens.
The Other Side of the Coin Suggests the Board Member Remain
On the other side of this very tough problem is the group of board members who say that no matter how much the nonprofit has been financially impacted by the illness and absence of the sick board member, this person must remain — unless he initiates his departure. The first reason they give toward supporting the sick board member is pure morality. As a social good organization, it believes that it is its moral obligation to accept the unforeseen circumstances.
Further, the organization believes that what it has to do, as so many nonprofits have been doing, is to figure out new ways to approach fundraising. It argues that although it has experienced a financial downturn with the illness, it needs to reorganize and figure out how to cover the shortfall. Moreover, some of the board members believe that it's an opportunity to "shake things up" and discover new approaches to community support.
The organization also believes that asking a sick board member to resign is not the example it wants to set for its team or community. It thinks that the organization's mission is not only to do the work in its town, but also to demonstrate leadership from the point of authenticity, transparency and integrity. Therefore, the organization cannot see how it could claim to be a philanthropic organization and seek not to be wholly charitable.
Possible Workarounds for a Problematic Issue
I firmly believe that under no circumstances should any nonprofit facing a similar challenge ask a board member who is sick to resign. Sure, it's unfortunate that the organization has suffered an economic loss because of the circumstance that has impacted vital programs. However, I'm on the side of the group of people who would not ask the board member for anything. Moreover, I think it's essential for leaders to see what he or she needs from them. Even if it's only moral support, that could make a tremendous difference.
That said, I do get it. The nonprofit absorbed a financial hit because of the loss, however temporary, of the sick member. There are several practical things your organization could do should it ever face this type of situation:
- Remember that you are in the business of social good. Because of it, compassion and kindness go a long way.
- Speak to the legal counsel of the nonprofit. Perhaps under the circumstances, there is a way to add new board members with a vote of most of the board.
- Also, working with legal counsel, consider placing into the bylaws what happens during a leave of absence for board members.
- As a point of practicality, you could ask the board member who is sick (only if it is appropriate) if others could approach the past donors that person brought to the organization.
- If fundraising dollars are your concern, expand your fundraising opportunities. For instance, create a peer-to-peer fundraising group on social media. Or look for strategic partnerships with other nonprofits to approach major donors in combination.
In sum, none of us knows if or when we could get affected by a disease. As we all know, things like this do happen in life, and frequently, it is unexpected. While it's understandable to fret about your nonprofit work and those you serve, there's always a way to support someone who is sick and also accomplish the goals you have for the organization, even if it requires innovative and creative thinking.
Wayne Elsey is the founder and CEO of Elsey Enterprises. Among his various independent brands, he is also the founder and CEO of Funds2Orgs, a social enterprise that helps nonprofits, schools, churches, civic groups, individuals and others raise funds, while helping to support micro-enterprise (small business) opportunities in developing nations and the environment.
You can learn more about Wayne and obtain free resources, including his books on his blog, Not Your Father’s Charity.