Dear Nonprofiteer, Who quit and made me president?

Dear Nonprofiteer:

Recently I started serving on a board of a small social service organization.  In the last six months our board president has slowly retreated from his leadership duties due to a variety of personal issues that he’s facing and I find that I’m essentially left driving the bus.  What resources are there that you would recommend for those seemingly newly anointed to oversee a nonprofit?

Signed,Nickeynewguy and Lost

Dear Nickey,

Of course the best resource is the Nonprofiteer it/herself–the site has no search function, I’m sorry to say, but if you just keep trolling backwards you’ll find numerous bits of advice for Board presidents.  But here’s the central thing to remember: even if you’re suddenly the Board PRESIDENT, you’re not suddenly the whole Board.

So the first thing to do is call a meeting of the Board (with the Executive Director in the room—s/he will be your most valuable partner) and say, “Well, I appear to have become president by default.  This wasn’t your choice and it certainly wasn’t mine; so let’s figure out what has to be done and divide up the tasks.”  In other words, make it clear from the word Go that you’re not going to be in this alone.

Second, if you’re the sort of person who ends up leading by default, that means you’re a natural leader in one way or another.  I’m going to proceed on the assumption that your leadership flows from quiet competence rather than noisy charisma (otherwise you’d have been Board president to begin with).  So use that quiet competence to help the Executive Director and your fellow Board members think through:

  • What do we have to do that’s urgent?
  • What do we have to do that’s important?
  • Are we letting the urgent get in the way of the important?
  • If so, is the urgent really so urgent?
  • If so, do we need more people to address things, urgent and important alike?
  • If so, who will lead a brainstorming session to identify and recruit prospective new Board members?

Note that I’m not suggesting you do the recruiting, though you may be the most motivated to do so, having suddenly awakened to a whole set of unasked-for responsibilities. Nor should the Executive Director do it—s/he’s got plenty to do already.   But the only way you can do your job is to make sure other Board members do theirs, and the best way to get them activated is to give them the fun job, namely, thinking about who else would just love the work you’re doing if only they knew about it, and then talking to those people with great enthusiasm about what you do.

Any Board member who can’t run, or at least participate whole-heartedly in, a recruitment campaign should be given some essential but boring task like reviewing budget vs. actual expenses or assuring compliance with the Federal and state filing requirements.  That person should have to report at the next Board meeting, as will the recruiters.  As soon as you’re having Board meetings where Board members talk to each other (instead of sulking, or reporting to the Executive Director or to you as though you were the only responsible parties in the room), you’ve got this presidency stuff down pat.

For more detailed guidance, the Nonprofiteer strongly suggests checking out any of the sites on the blogroll (in the right margin), as well as going to, which as its name suggests specializes in making Board service as straightforward and resource-rich as possible.  The Boardsource “Knowledge Center” is chock-a-block with guidelines, forms and checklists to help you make sure the essential bases are being covered—even in the center fielder’s absence.

And as further questions arise, please feel free to write again!


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2 Responses to “Dear Nonprofiteer, Who quit and made me president?”

  1. Margaret Says:

    Comments about search: Any site can be searched using a search engine, though I’m not sure this works in ALL search engines. Using Google, anyway, you simply include in your search, and Google delivers all the pages with your search terms exclusively found at the aforementioned site. For example, if you want to search on the string, “board president” then put the following in the Google search box (and you might try it without the quotes too or also try “president of the board”):

    “board president”

    There are other tips about using search engines effectively posted online. Here are several sites that have them:

    • Nonprofiteer Says:

      This is very helpful–thanks so much. I’m not fluent in Internet, I know, and am grateful for help from all native speakers!

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