You Might Have a Dysfunctional Board If…

Joan Garry is the “Dear Abby” of the nonprofit sector. Get educated, informed and entertained by subscribing to her audio podcast: Nonprofits Are Messy: Lessons in Leadership | Fundraising | Board Development | Communications

Doing her best to help people create the best nonprofit boards possible, instead of focusing on the positive, she welcomed the negative. She posted “You might have a dysfunctional board if…” and let her audience fill in the blank. Courtesy of, here are a few comments she received:


You might have a dysfunctional board if…  board members are told that fundraising is not part of their engagement.

– Frank Pasquini, Professional Fundraising Counsel

You might have a dysfunctional board if… the board approves every single thing the Executive Director plans.

– Susan Detwiler, Nonprofit Consultant

You might have a dysfunctional board if… your Board President says “the only people I have ever led is my family.”

– Anonymous (OK, not EVERYONE was willing to say who he/she was)

You might have a dysfunctional board if… the board chair is the executive director’s best friend.

– Bonnie Osinski, Fundraising consultant and coach

You might have a dysfunctional board if you ask the board to make a significant fundraising effort for a milestone anniversary and they vote to plant flowers.  

– Paula Brown, Executive Director at Reading Works

You might have a dysfunctional board if… the board doesn’t respond to a motion to adjourn.

– Nancy Alexander, Consultant

You might have a dysfunctional board if the board president sends their executive director flowers on secretary’s day and isn’t being ironic.

– Carol Weisman, President of Board Builders

You might have a dysfunctional board if…  your board chairs says, “Bylaws schmylaws. I don’t even know what they mean, or why we need them.” 

– Marchelle Sellers, Executive Director, Mending Kids International

You might have a dysfunctional board if… your board chair, in a discussion about trimming costs, asks how old your assistant is.

– Margot Knight, Executive Director of Djerassi Resident Artists Program

You might have a dysfunctional board if… they show up at the wrong location for a standing monthly board meeting. They are always held at the same location.

– Anonymous


If you’ve ever chaired a board, you too are laughing right about now.

In 2012, I founded Idle Tuesdays Recording Studio, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles. Unlike many nonprofit founders, I was more familiar with running a corporation than a charity. And when it came time to put my board together, I quickly realized Dorothy wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Corporate boards exist to help maximize profits. Nonprofit boards exist to help achieve a mission.

A successful nonprofit board is comprised of men and women who bring a wealth of corporate and life experience to the table. If your organization is providing services to the homeless, consider having a formerly-homeless person on your board. Nobody will know the ins and outs of what services are most needed more than them.

If your organization is a 501(c)(3), it is responsible to file state and federal returns annually. Consider having an accountant or bookkeeper on your board who is familiar with these processes.

Because Idle Tuesdays Recording Studio serves artists who are pursuing careers in commercial music, our board has artists and music business executives on the board. From beginning to end, we have somebody on our board who represents a specific spectrum of the music industry.

Look around at those in your world. Who has a track record of dependability? Who always shows up on time? Who is great with details? Who has already exhibited a passion for the people your nonprofit will serve? Who is an excellent public speaker? Who has time to dedicate to your meetings? Who has the finances to give towards your cause?

Avoid men and women who have a reputation for being a troublemaker, irresponsible, in debt or do not keep their commitments.

And remember, nonprofits are not owned; they’re governed by the Board of Directors. Founders can be voted off. For example, even though I started Idle Tuesdays Recording Studio, because my board is responsible for achieving our mission, if my board concludes I am hindering that, they can legally vote me off.

Nonprofits exist to achieve a specific mission, so be sure to only invite men and women to sit on your board if you know their pros far outweigh their cons.

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