Are You on a Dysfunctional Board?

Think about your last nonprofit board meeting. When you left, were you satisfied with what was accomplished? Did attending seem like a worthwhile investment of your time? Did you feel you made a meaningful contribution to the meeting, discussions and decisions? Were you excited and looking forward to the next meeting?

Or was the last meeting a disaster and a time waster?

There is no doubt that many members of nonprofit boards have experienced the pain of dysfunction. The horror stories can range from wasted time on trivial matters to boring “show and tell” presentations from management to virtually no comments by any board member on any matter. Often, one or two members dominate the conversation with opinions and complaints. Frequently, a chair will allow no dialogue or a president plots to ensure complete control of the enterprise.

Ultimately, these kinds of experiences can lead to a level of frustration that drives members away from serving, or leaves members so disengaged they begin to avoid board meetings altogether. Eventually, a failure to have positive experiences at meetings will stifle meaningful commitment and eliminate any real value contributed by the board members.

Dysfunctional boards lead to dysfunctional organizations. When the tone at the top is tainted by a general lack of purpose or commitment by a frustrated or disengaged board, it’s inevitable the board will have no material impact. Weak boards almost guarantee a weak organization. Boards can be a strategic asset to the management, or they can inhibit strategy.

So what can you do, besides resign? The answer is not simple as it will require change and a commitment to exercise leadership.

Move from passive observer to engaged leader, and volunteer to take on one of the tough challenges that everybody else seems to be avoiding. Start serious networking to meet the other board members at times and places unconnected to the nonprofit. You might be surprised with their frustration as well.

Recruit new members, like you, who will get and stay actively engaged.

Befriend the current chair, and offer to help with setting a productive agenda.

Connect with the president/executive director, and become an informal coach/mentor.

Become an advocate for governance training for the board to get everyone back on task, on mission and recommitted.

In short, be willing to say yes to requests to get more engaged. Engagement and action become the platform for you to work on the dysfunction. You can be the change agent that turns a dysfunctional board into the strategic asset it should be.

Gerry Czarnecki is founder and chairman of the nonprofit National Leadership Institute (nationalleadershipinstitute.org), which helps boards of nonprofit organizations become strategic assets to the leadership team. His extensive background as a C-suite executive and CEO is coupled with current board leadership of corporate and nonprofit organizations. He is also chairman and CEO of the Deltennium Group. Contact him at 561.293.3726 or gmc@deltennium.com.

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky



Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.