Beware Of These 6 Types of Dysfunctional & Destructive Board Members!

We know that safaris are a little passé, but when was the last time we got out of the office and took a little field trip? Instead of regaling you with our normal nonprofit rants tips and tricks, today, we’re offering you a FREE safari trip to the nonprofit zoo! We’re focused on an exhibit showcasing some common types of dysfunctional and destructive board members out in their natural habitats.

Hop in the caravan and grab your binoculars. We’re taking you to a jungle meeting where you’ll spot all these board members. We know they look harmless, even cute, but beware-putting these bad board members at your table can spell catastrophe for your organization.


Let’s be honest, these do-nothings don’t really care about your board. They’re just lying around for an extra title and added resume credentials. There’s no incentive for them to challenge the status quo or probe into real work if it means actually doing work. You want someone who’s going to dive in and get his or her hands dirty. Someone who actually cares about whether planned strategies actually match what employees feel is important. Not someone who does the bare minimum by just showing up. They’re also easily dominated by other members that have personal agendas (you’ll read about those ones down below).

How to Spot a Seat-Warmer: They spend the entire meeting on their cell phone or tablet and staff members usually complain about how unusually warm their chair is upon returning it back to their desk the next day.



“How could a neutral person be dangerous?” You might ask. Easy. Although these risk averse nonparticipants might seem harmless at first, their lack of courage to stand for something means that they’ll fall for just about everything. Avoiding conflict amongst members could lead to prolonging existing issues even further. This board member rarely offers any opinion except to table the offending decision or require a six-month focus group to study the idea.

How to Spot a Bias Bypasser: Listen for the sound of silence on an important vote. Crickets chirping are a good sign too.



This individual likes to pry into management, operations, human resources, paint colors, landscaping and everything in between. Instead of focusing on high-level priorities like cultivating potential relationships and managing yearly cash requirements, these role offenders would rather get caught up in day-to-day business operations. While nonprofits like free labor, a board member sticking around the office isn’t entirely conducive to their actual duties.

How to Spot a Micro-Manager: They’re still wearing the staff-embroidered t-shirt they wore to the facility this afternoon.



Sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally, this is the board member that puts everyone on edge. Their habit of domineering conversations makes it hard for people to share their opinions, especially if they differ. This person is used to getting their way or the highway and they lack the finesse to draw consensus from fellow board members. A meeting could become a venue for a speech rather than a focus on real productivity or discussion.

How to Spot a Bull In A China Cabinet: A lot of their sentences begin with, “I’ve done this successfully many times and therefore…” and usually ends with their own ideas, dismissing everything else.



This one is never on the same page when it comes to the future of the organization and its initiatives, but no one can pinpoint why. This individual consistently proposes actions that benefit them personally, regardless of whether it could compromise the image and sustainability of the organization. Whatever their reason for serving, the overall long-term benefit of the organization will always be secondary.

How to Spot a Hidden Agenda: They’re the first to submit their resume for an open C-level position.



Were they there? Or were they not there? This person’s name always shows up on the ‘absent’ line for one good reason or another. According to legend, they once showed up back in 2013 pledging to commit $1,000 annually and solicit sponsorships from local companies, but none of these claims ever came to fruition.

How to Spot a Ghoster: They’re on the letterhead, only. 


Need help dealing with one of these individuals on your board? We offer board retreats and consultations.

Want a 101 on board development? Attend our upcoming learning lab for Board Members.

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