The Board Just Fired Me . . . and I'm the Founder!

We usually don't publish First Person Nonprofit articles anonymously. But in this case we know the individual and corroborated the key points of her story, and we understand why she has asked that her name not be published.

Four weeks and five days ago from this moment -- at 4 pm on a May afternoon -- I was fired. That morning the board chair told me our afternoon meeting would not be a finance committee meeting after all, but, rather, "about your future with the organization." The meeting lasted, at the most, 6 minutes.

"We would like you to resign," the board chair said.

"I have already submitted my resignation," I replied. Three weeks ago I had told the board I would be leaving in November. We were about to embark on a strategic planning process, and our big conference -- the one I created 11 years ago -- would be in the fall. That seemed like a fitting exit point.

"It's not acceptable to wait until November," he said. "We are terminating you effective immediately. Please turn in your keys and key card right now."

I was furious, white hot mad. I narrowed my eyes and "did a Harold" (my father's name was Harold).

He went on to tell me that I was not to go to the office to pick up my personal items unless a member of the board was present, and he would let me know who on the board to contact for that purpose.

And that was it.

I'm still furious. I'm mad at all the board members. I'm pissed at the new board members that I recruited because they didn't stop it. I'm mad at the old guard for being so sanctimonious. They don't have a clue. I'm angry because I should have been treated better and there's nothing I can do about it. And that's NOT FAIR.

Since the morning call had been pretty clear about the purpose of the meeting, I had had a few hours to prepare. I told each staff member that I might be fired that afternoon. We had a fantastic team of five at the organization, and I believed it was important for them to know what might be coming down the road.

After my meeting with the board chair, I went back to the office to tell the staff what had happened. The door was locked, although everyone's cars were still in the lot. There was no answer to my knock. I was struck with a huge, hurt fear that they were sitting in there having been told not to let me in. I later learned that, at the same time I was meeting with the two officers who fired me, another group of board members had gone to the office and taken everyone across the street to a coffee shop to tell them what was happening.

So I went home. I cried. I slept.

The next day a friend forwarded an email to me that had been sent to everyone on our distribution list -- about 2,500 people. It started like this: "Effective immediately, ____ is no longer the Executive Director of ____. Our organization is in trouble and the most significant issues relate to our finances."

Should have seen the signs

I should have seen the signs. But I didn't. Looking back now, I can pinpoint when the shift in board personality began: about 6 years ago. There was an evolution of the board from a group of enthusiastic, flexible individuals to a collection of people who engage in inwardly-focused groupthink. They were unwilling to engage in any sort of healthy debate. They consistently ignored the financial warning signs I pointed out, and they flat-out saw only limited responsibility for themselves to be fundraisers.

Nearly three years ago I missed another piece of evidence. A long time board member remarked that boards should have executive sessions at every meeting -- without the CEO. And so they did.

Most important, they did not seem to grasp the fact that our mission required a mix of charitable and earned income. They believed that if we could just figure out the right business model we could survive on earned income alone.

The result? When they finally paid attention to the financial situation of the organization, they panicked.

Puzzling silence

I had been talking about leaving off and on for several years. The board had complained that I hadn't given them a date. So I gave them a date.

When I gave my resignation I did it by letter to each of the board members. I had given them a resignation date of November 30. And I got no response to the letter, no response whatsoever. I sent an email to my board chair and said I haven't heard from you, I'd like to talk, and he never responded. I really didn't get it.

In fact, I never talked to the board after my resignation letter. A week after I sent them the letter, I sent an email asking for a special board meeting to discuss the current financial crunch. We on the staff had decided we would all take a 20% pay cut for a limited period of time, maybe three or four months. In our organization if you cut a staff member you cut income, so we couldn't solve the financial problem just by laying people off.

At the special board meeting no one mentioned my resignation. The next week they fired me. It was a unanimous vote.

Advice to other founders

This is every founder's nightmare. My advice: first, don't ever shortchange the time you spend with your board members. Build really good relationships with them.

And recruit for personality. My board would be perfect for a large foundation but it's the wrong board for a small entrepreneurial nonprofit. I admit that I had a big role in recruiting. Why did I recruit them? Because I didn't know what I was doing. They have no spine.

They chose to be unengaged and I let them do it. The finance committee did meet every month and we went over the finances in painful detail. This group of people didn't want to spend the time to be good board members. They were just interested in the once-a-month meeting.

I've changed my mind about being a voting member of the board. They couldn't have met without me if I had been a voting member. The dynamic was that they had all the power and I had none.

Now

I put in an unemployment claim and they didn't fight it, so at least I'm collecting unemployment. I'm trying to build a consulting business at the same time I look for a real job. The staff threw me a party and the board was not invited. It was a very nice party. But there is still one sore point. One of the staff has been there five years and we were really close. But we haven't talked about this, and I don't know how to close things out with her.

Thank you for sharing this story.

See also in Blue Avocado:

Comments (114)

  • I found this interesting to read - in a watching a train wreck kind of way. I ran through the emotions with her, could understand where she was coming from, despite not necessarily agreeing with some of the things she did. It's pretty raw and I give her some leeway for being a little scattered in her feelings. There's obviously a lot more to the story than we're getting. She had a feeling she was going to be fired, but then she felt blindsided? she picked all these board members, but then they were all bad board members?

    Jun 07, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I was extremely surprised to read the responses to this story - which in full disclosure I should say a version of which has happened to me so I understand many of the nuances - and to read, particularly in the early comments the criticism of the E.D. versus the board. While I definitely saw myself in many of the E.D.'s errors of, for example, letting things go for too long or perhaps giving away too much power to non-professionals, I was surprised that respondents missed the lack of business practices of the Board members described in the following passages: "They consistently ignored the financial warning signs I pointed out, and they flat-out saw only limited responsibility for themselves to be fundraisers. Nearly three years ago I missed another piece of evidence. A long time board member remarked that boards should have executive sessions at every meeting -- without the CEO. And so they did. Most important, they did not seem to grasp the fact that our mission required a mix of charitable and earned income. They believed that if we could just figure out the right business model we could survive on earned income alone. The result? When they finally paid attention to the financial situation of the organization, they panicked." In my now long experience with many boards, I can definitely say that I have experienced all these scenarios: the board who told me and a trusted CFO that the 990 showing that the organization was in the red had to be wrong even if it showed that information for 2 consecutive years; the board that told me I didn't know what I was doing because I refused to accept they didn't want to fundraise and I should have taught them "how to do a raffle or something" (I have that in writing as a reason for non-payment of consulting fees); the nonprofit board that continues to refuse to believe that fundraising is a worthy goal and that earning income is the superior business model. I've seen more - the Treasurer who won't spend a penny who becomes Chair and spends behind the Board's back; the Board that signs off on anything as long as it is not required to do anything, even when the E.D. is embezzling and abusing staff (and later caught doing so). What I have come to conclude about all this is that nothing beats training. I try to bring as much training to the table as I possibly can using all the influence at my disposal. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it gets me fired. I have also seen Boards brimming with skills and enthusiasm as well as Boards without skills and eager to learn. But closed doors and secret sessions never did anyone any good no matter where problems lay. I have been amazed at the ability of people I have worked for in the non profit field to treat me and my colleagues with hostility and contempt. In all the years I served as an Executive Director or as a Director of Development I never saw a reason to do so. My beliefs and training are to thank staff and volunteers for their work, to train them to excel, or to do better than when I arrived. I had volunteers who left after 7 years only because they had to move to another country! I believe in relationships that continue long after the job role has ended. Why burn bridges? So let's imagine that this was the worst Executive Director ever - why let her go in such a dreadful way as to lose her connections for all those years? What a dreadful loss for the organization! Just this alone is terrible management on the part of this Board. My motto is To finish with the Going Away Party. I know I am doing everything I can in my work relationships to make that happen, but unfortunately - try as hard as I can to Manage Up - not everyone I deal with is willing to engage in that party-making process.

    Jun 21, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I too found this interesting, but perhaps more from the standpoint of analyzing the narrator. The story speaks to control issues: "I let them", and "I recruited them", and "if I were a voting member of the Board." One might reason that the issue is really one of capability of management: good communication, trained leaders, teambuilding, trust. It's also true that organizations outgrow their founders and need to move on. There are, of course, more graceful and less hurtful ways to effect change--but this Board seems very well organized, having anticipated all of the CEO's responses and -- apparently -- understanding that a total and complete breakup of the relationship was the only way it could move in the direction it wanted to go.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Nonprofit organizations are interesting creatures. I was a consultant for a np, building their development and marketing departments from the ground up. I had been working at this for three years. The new ED (the first for the organization) BTW, my contract was w/ the Board, not the ED!fired me after 4 months and then sent an email to the entire Board letting them know.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Once an ED was in place, you worked for him/ her, not the Board.

    Apr 28, 2013
  • Anonymous

    Based on this account, the ED was, of course, mistreated by her board. It's inexcusable that they didn't respond to her letter of resignation, for example. At the same time, I'm sure the board has their side of the story, and we don't know what that is. So, while it may be cathartic for this individual to share how she was treated, I don't know how useful it is for readers. We really would need more information to make judgments about good vs. bad governance practices. As a former board chair myself, I found one comment particularly suspect: the idea that regular executive sessions at board meetings are "warning signs." In my view, such a practice is just good governance. The board needs independence from the ED to do its job effectively. (And I'm not a fan of EDs being voting members of the board, for similar reasons.) At our board, we always have a first exec session with just the ED and then a brief one following with only the board, in order to allow for any other concerns to be aired. Usually it's a non-event, but occasionally something important comes up; the board president follows up with the ED by phone the next day to convey any concerns that were discussed. As long as the board-ED relationship is strong and communication is transparent, there is nothing to fear in this appropriate delineation of roles.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I have been ED of a non-profit for 12 years, and have also chaired NPs myself, and I agree with this commentator completely.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Agree completely with above comments. Currently serving as the Chair of a NP Board. Our ED is present at every meeting to give an ED report, and stays for the treasurer's report, new business and old business. She leaves at that point. Sometimes the meeting ends there, sometimes we have issues that we need to discuss further.

    Jul 20, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I want to address the issue of executive session and how they can be misused by a board. I resigned as ED of an organization after the board met at 3 consecutive quarterly business meetings in executive session (to which I was not invited). The by-laws and policy manual clearly spelled out under what circumstances an executive session could be held (ED performance review, salary & contracts, real estate contracts, etc.), but the board quickly developed the habit of having 2 board meetings -- the public one that including staff and members of the community and the closed-door executive sessions that became bitch sessions for several board members unwilling to discuss their issues/concerns/ideas in public. A weak board chair who was controntation-advserse allowed this behavior to continue even as it eroded staff confidence (not just mine but that of other staff -- and I never discussed my concerns about the executive sessions with staff). Constituents/clients/funders also became alarmed that something bad was happening at the NFP and started asking questions of staff. I expressed my concerns several times with the board chair, but it appeared he was in the thrall of a couple of vocal board members who kept on demanding executive sessions to discuss everything from the color of the walls in the office to what happened 10 years ago when so-and-so did such-and-such. (A concerned board member shared with me some of the discussions in these executive sessions.) When I announced I was leaving, the board what surprised and concerned, especially as other key staff left over the next 18 months -- taking with them years of expertise, institutional memory, community contacts, and goodwill. What the board finally had to re-learn in the face of community distrust is that the most effective organizations are those with a high degree of trust, professional regard, and commitment among board and staff -- a two-way street. Closed door meetings that become a routine way of doing business undermine, in very short order, the mututal trust and respect that can be built over the years. Executive sessions are designed to provide a forum to discuss in full confidential such matters as contract negotitation, salary & wage schedules, etc. They are not designed to contravene the organization's by-laws and policies nor do an end run around staff, clients, and funders.

    Jul 26, 2011
  • Anonymous

    For years, we've heard "You need to run [name your favorite non-profit] more like a business." And while we have only one side of the story, the board took that advice to heart, for this is how businesses run - well, minus the golden parachute.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    "Recruit for personality"? I sincerely hope that when the wounds heal, this person will take some different lessons from this episode.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Absolutely. It sounds like founders syndrome run amok, to the point of building the board in his/her own image. The most difficult thing for founders to accept is that the organization does not belong to them.

    Jun 11, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I'm not sure "personality" was the right word, but in essence I agree with the original author. The values and personality of the board as a group are supremely important. For good decision-making, you need people who will question assumptions, recognize that other people's perspectives may be valuable, and call out bad behaviors. That being said - I don't know enough about this particular situation to judge much about it, and neither does anyone else whose only information is what the author wrote in this column. So I'm not saying, "THE problem in this situation was the board's personality."

    Jul 20, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Seems like this is a very one-sided story. The board obviously had very serious financial concerns. On the emergency level. So the fact that the writer has been going over the financials in "painful detail" on a monthly basis alludes to a complete obliviousness on his/her part. In fact, throughout the whole article, the writer does little but say the board members are all bad board memebers. It's all their fault. That right there says a lot. Either way, it's tough to get let go from the organization you started. But if the visions and goals of the organization will now be better served, in the bigger picture, this is good.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • I agree with Christine, this is a train wreck. If you are asked to go (not all that unusual for most people, certainly including me more than once), stand up and shake their hands. Smile. Be polite. Thank them for a great run. Ask what the next policy is (a locked door is typical). Ask how to retrieve your things. Then leave, and make no additional contact, friendly or otherwise. This ED's case is fairly clear to understand. This ED is running an organization that is losing money, and she is a hothead that makes polite discussion difficult. I've never heard of an ED that survived on that basis. Heck, I've been in calm money-making situations and not survived. Just move on. There is plenty of demand for anyone who knows NPO governance, fundraising, and grant writing.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • GREAT advice on what to do if you're fired.

    Sep 16, 2012
  • Anonymous

    This sounded like a sobbing rant you'd phone your (always understanding) girlfriend with. Here she admits that she's told the board on and off over the past few years that she'd be leaving, finally gives them a date and then is shocked, shocked! to be terminated ahead of her resignation date. I'm sorry for her suffering... but she needs to put on her big-girl panties and get on with it.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I worked for an ED one time who kept threatening to resign and it became so difficult for the staff and the Board to trust him. It felt as though he was saying that if we did or said something with which he disagreed - that he would use his threats to get his way. He also was quite shocked when the Board finally accepted his resignation. The only mistake they made was to allow him to come back into the office where he immediatley took out his wrath on the staff.

    Jun 09, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I agree with Christine's comment that the writer's feelings are scattered and that there is more to this story. As the president of a board, I believe the writer's board was wrong not to be up-front with her. Communication is the key to success. On the other hand, the lack of professionalism in the writer's emotional venting leads me to believe her board felt they could not communicate, in a reasonable way, with her. Though I feel for the writer's sudden unemployment, I think she would benefit from less blaming anger, and more self-examination. Always interesting to read people putting themselves completely "out there." Thanks for publishing this story.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Thank you for sharing your story. The decision to do so can't have been an easy one.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Dear Friend, Not only did they fire you, but they did it in the worst possible manner. As a VP of HR at a large company, I've been involved many times in people losing their jobs. Done well, it doesn't have to be the nightmare that you were subjected to. Basically, don't treat the person leaving as a criminal; rarely do employees harm their computer, the files, etc. Let people leave with dignity. Leave the door open so you can call them with questions, tell them you are sorry it worked out this way, have one or two people speak with them, not a full Board or Committee. Now what? I'd recommend you write the full story in your journal - it helps to get your thoughts organized, and on paper. Also, find something you love to do, and spend a few weeks focussed on that - whether it is gardening, fingerpainting or scuba diving .. use the time to replenish your resources. Then you will have the energy to develop a plan for moving forward professionally - perhaps in a completely different direction. Good luck! Elenor

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    100% Agreed.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Increasingly, npo staff leavings - of whatever nature - are treated as criminal acts. The leaving staff treated as though they had maimed someone. It is the most bizarre behavior. Especially with npos that have mission statements that would gag a bible for all their holiness, the current standard of treatment is all the more abhorent.

    Jun 10, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Exactly. In many, many layoffs of co-workers that I've witnessed (my own included) the departing staff member could not have been treated any worse if she had been caught embezzling or molesting a client. Get them out of here fast--they're persona non grata now.

    Jun 15, 2011
  • Thank you for posting this response. The fact that it's from a professional, and that that professional reflects the (apparent!) fact that we're all humans and that, *gasp*, nonprofits are supposed to be charitable and in the public-interest, is a needed response. I would never support a nonprofit which I knew the board behaved in this way. If the ED or CEO was not criminal or corrupt in some way, there's no excuse for the behavior toward the ED and founder. I'm both amazed and sickened at how many people commenting here think the manner of firing was OK; the board is the one who should be thanking the founder for the good run, not the other way around. If a founder is treated in this way, how can a board be trusted to be truly interested in carrying out a charitable mission (and why should anyone seriously consider going through all the work of founding a nonprofit)? It makes no sense. The board members sound like they don't have a charitable (or communicative/transparency) bone in their bodies.

    Jan 02, 2017
  • I think this story really has three components: personal treatment; board responsibities; and realistic non-profit revenue models. The author was treated horribly, she wasn't accused of embezzling, yet she was treated that way by the board - give your keys immediately and don't go anywhere without an escort, etc. Apparently no one on this board even said, 'Wait a minute, she's been here x years and no one deserves to be treated this way, etc." The second issue is that of board responsibilities, they are responsible for the financial health of the organization, but according to the author, they had ignored this for at least several years. This is a failing on everyone's part and it is related to the third issue, having a realistic revenue model for non-profits. The third issue, of a realistic non-profit revenue model is one where I see many non-profits failing, and falling into the trap of the latest fad. The fundamental difference of the non-profit sector is that it is that of realistic revenue model always includes a charitable income component. I'm purposely not using the phrase "business model" because I think that misleads and clouds the issue, and makes it easy for board memberst to think that a non-profit is just another business, not a unique and different type of organization. The term "revenue model" is a better fit, and while some non-profits can manage with a high percentage of earned income programs, the truth is that the vast majority of non-profits require charitable donations to exist. Once the non-profit world recognizes that fact, instead of jumping on the latest fad to be hyped, (whatever it's called, social enterprises, earned income, etc.) it allows energy and attention to focus on the true priorities of the non-profit. Regards, Bill Huddleston The CFC Coach www.cfcfundraising.com The Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) has generated more than $ 1 billon of unrestricted funds for thousands of local, national, and international non-profits over the past 5 years. The single largest reciepient is the Red Cross which gets about $7 million annually. How much did your non-profit get?

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    100% agreed. And good job with the IM at the end ;) Most np professionals haven't got the first clue when it comes to marketing.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Finally a response that concentrates on possible solutions rather than on finding fault.

    Jun 09, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I totally agree.

    Jun 09, 2011
  • Anonymous

    My limited experience with NFP's leads me to believe that Executive Directors should have term limits, just like Board Members. If the ED's contract is for the same length as the board members (say 3 years) and is limited to an initial term and 2 renewals, everyone is under the assumption that 'moving on' is a natural part of leadership. It adds some fire to the planning process, and the ability to leave a mark on the organization requires concentration on either making immediate change or on adopting a strategic long-term plan. Without the 'up and out' attitude, everyone (ED and board members) fall into an attitude of 'well, I don't like it but I won't complain beause maybe it will take care of itself next (month/meeting/year)'. The organization benefits if it can avoid this institutional indifference. And hiring an ED who has suffered the consequences of working in such an environment almost assures that you are getting someone who WILL speak up, WILL take a position and fight for it, and will NOT be afraid to move on if it's not a right fit.... Of course, few NFPs are willing to hire someone that isn't beholden to the board for their job.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    With few exceptions, I believe EDs know more about their organization than the board. An effective ED must know her/his board and be good at communication and the art of persuasion. And with regard to term limits, I disagree as a result of personal experience. There were 52 applicants for my position. The board narrowed the choice to a young woman who was working for an insurance company and myself with many years experience, not only in non-profits but in our particular type of non-profit. For several months I wondered why there had been no one else with comparable experience, and what would have happened to the organization had the board chosen the young woman from the insurance company. I am concerned for the day when I decide to move on. There are too few qualified applicants to make term limits for EDs an effective means to operate. And, after working for another board and coming to realize that their vision for the organization was limited, I didn't wait to be fired or give several months notice. I gave them one month and didn't look back. Ironically, my newer position is as a funding source for that organization.

    Jun 22, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I agree completely. Most EDs and NP staff know the organization significantly better than do the board. Board members have term limits for various reasons: because they are volunteers, because the scope of their responsibilities will eventually require new blood, etc. Conversely, there should be SOMEONE there who knows the organization's operations and relationships well enough to provide some continuity, institutional knowledge and steady leadership. That person is the ED.

    Jul 25, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I don't agree with the concept of term limits for EDs. I think the ED can help to provide continuity to an organization that rightly enjoys a rotation of board members as a way to engage a continually renewing crop of community members and other constituent groups. HOWEVER, I believe that EDs should recognize that they need to move on for the benefit of their organization. I've done this several times -- realizing that the organization could benefit from new ideas and a fresh persepctive. I see my role as ED as building the organizational capacity for change (growth or retrenchment), including empowering staff and board to manage change effectively -- not just to weather it but to use change as a springboard to new services, organizational restructuring, etc. Therefore, from the day I arrive in a new ED position, my job is to prepare the organization (although I don't express it this way!!!) for the time when I or other critical staff members decide to move on. I don't believe that an ED should stay at the helm for more than 10-15 years. I have seen what happens to agencies when the long-time ED leaves -- some organizations take years to recover and generally run through 1 or 2 or 3 new EDs along their road to recovery.

    Jul 26, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I had the same thing happen to me. Fortunately, in my case, the Board quit (all 10 of them) and I'm still here. I don't think the conventional model of nonprofit governance by a volunteer board works. You end up with people who know little about the mission or what it means to be a board member. The possibility of narrowly focused group think is always present. In my case, a few board members confused their role with staff, and actually took formed a committee to take control of a multi-year complex project away from staff. Of course, they floundered, but did great damage to relations with outside partners, agencies, and internally between staff and board. I agree, recruit your board members very carefully.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I completely agree with the comment that the conventional model of nonprofit governance does not work. Why would a group of often untrained volunteers have the power over someone who has dedicated ten years of their life to making something happen? As a consultant for np organizations I see this over and over again. The ED is there everyday, and their livelihood depends on their work. Then temporary volunteers come in with "good ideas" and can ruin not only the nonprofit, but the ED's livelihood. It is an unequal power balance. EDs, and professional NP staff in general, need much more respect in the nonprofit sector. Much of the so called best practices are really wrong (as reflected in many of the comments here). The Board should not have more power than the ED as this sets up the wrong dynamic. It is interesting because the power imbalance reflects the societal power imbalance that most non-profit organizations are trying to address. Board members, who often make much more money than the ED, have power over the ED. Are we internalizing the oppression in our system of nonprofit governance?

    Jun 10, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I would like to recommend my favorite book on the topic: Arts Boards: Creating a New Community Equation, written and compiled by Nello McDaniel and George Thorn. It's such a wonderful model of Board / Staff collaboration for smaller organizations, and, I would think, whether they are Arts Organizations or not. It just dissolves the mythology of the Board having power over the E.D. which was appropriate back when the wealthy put money together to create a symphony, for example, but simply doesn't apply when this financial model is not in place. If a group of like-minded people form an organization or a founder starts a cause, the concept of the Board having power over the E.D. is inappropriate. Arts Boards posits a collaborative model without the "us vs them" divide that plagues so many organizations. It's a far more appropriate business model for many, many nonprofits and was a core textbook at the Columbia Graduate School's Nonprofit Management program many moon's ago.

    Jun 21, 2011
  • Anonymous

    This commentary is refreshing from the perspective of seeing that I'm not alone in experiences here at this NP. Whoever submitted this anonymous post on 6/10 at 20:44 - thank you! You hit the nail on the head!

    Jul 02, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I agree,

    Jul 02, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Hooray for this comment. I've seen several organizations, founded to address power imbalances in society, where the board abused its authority/power with the ED and other staff. It's an unfortunate pattern. It says to me that, for those organizations, it's not enough to have a couple board members who have mission-related expertise, while everyone else is recruited for professional skills, money/connections, prominence, or other factors. Sigh.

    Jul 20, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I think your comments deserve a 10+! I experienced similar devastating events as an ED of a NP organization whose board was bullied by a chair who was a control freak, a dangerous and malicious person, and who had no compunction about holding the rest of the board hostage to threats of withdrawing charitable support. I ended up being a persona non-grata after 16 years of co-founding the organization, after leading the creation of an effective and award winning national model and at the 11th hours of initiating an exciting new program component. This component was axed because the bully 'woke up' after being distracted with personal issues for the better part of 12+ months and convinced the rest of the board that the new program would steal the thunder from the core program. (The new program component was adopted by another organization and has since become a model for local economic development.) I'm convinced that the underlying issues at work within the dynamics of that BOD were ego, control, fear, and lack of courage by the majority of the board to move forward with their convictions and the agreed upon vision. The biggest problem I see again and again with the NP sector is that the BOD have too much power, too often more power than talent and experience. When a BOD is faced with a difficult decision or conflict, they too often cave to destructive patterns and end up responding according to peer pressure and their own personal and emotional dysfunction. It's too bad that the practice of cannibalism persists in the NP sector.

    Jul 24, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I think that if your entire Board quit, leaving you in charge of an organization that they were not willing to remain responsible for, you might well be in denial about what's going on with your leadership. You're presuming that those ten people over-stepped their responsibilities, realized that they'd screwed up, and benevolently decided to get out of the way to let you go back to doing your good job without their interference. Based on my own experience on Boards with both effective and ineffective ED's, my own conclusion (admittedly based on no facts other than what you have provided) is that ten people with various perspectives and competencies all somehow lost confidence in your leadership, but decided that they did not care enough about the organization to go through the extremely difficult and painful process of replacing you. After all, what would all that hassle have in it for them? And what did they realize that you are unwilling to see? The Board is not there to preserve the ED, the Board is there to establish and support the mission of the organization for the benefit of the cause(s) that it serves and thereby the people of the state in which it resides.

    Jun 13, 2011
  • Anonymous

    You hit the nail on the head with the flawed conventional model of nonprofit governance. All too commonly, E.D.'s are paralyzed from running their agencies because they are chasing and catering too many relationships. Not to mention being second-guessed at every turn by unqualified people who have never even worked in that profession. And don't get me started on all the brain storming sessions that staff always get caught in the middle of. It's nothing more than a contstant hamster wheel of oppression that leaves staff powerless and prevents any meaningful work from getting done. I'm seriously re-evaluating my future in the nonprofit sector because of this. Twenty four years is long enough perhaps.

    Jun 21, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Having been a Board President at one time and an ED for another organization this story really hits a lot of my buttons. The Board clearly has responsibility for financial over site of the organization and if the information is correct they were remiss in doing so. Being fired as an ED of an agency you started is extremely emotional and so I understand her need to vent though she should have left long ago. I think the way the Board handled it, treating like an embezzler was inexcusable. I hope the Board and the ED can overcome all the drama and trauma but I doubt it. She will no doubt have trouble getting another position because she was fired and the Board will have trouble finding another competent ED once word gets out how they handled the termination of this ED.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Well put.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Wow. I guess I have been totally misguided in my image of non-profits. I thought that compassion was almost a prerequisite for working in this field. I was blown away by the number of responses that finished the evisceration of Elenor that her board started. Writer after writer assumed guilt and only a couple pointed out that, no matter what the circumstances were within the organization, she was not treated well. (I can only imagine how the board views the organization's client base.) She was the founder, for pity sake! How are they going to explain this in their organizational history? This wonderful woman founded this great NFP and oh yeah, we fired her. I left the for-profit world because I couldn't stomach the idea that people are a commodity and profit was all. You all have certainly opened my eyes. And I don't like what I see.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • The writer of the article is not Elenor. Elenor is a reader who submitted a comment.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I couldn't agree more. You would think relationships and dedication would count for something, but sadly, it seems when it comes to money, they do not. Seems like the board and board member in general would often rather drown the baby to save their own face. My guess is this organization is on its way to total collapse as we speak, having already been in financial trouble, with a board that was apparently reluctant or indifferent to fundraising, and firing the leader of what she said was a great team, unexpectedly, without a plan - good luck pulling out of a financial nosedive on that one.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Sorry to burst your bubble, Anonymous, but after 25 years in the nonprofit world, I know from personal experience that nonprofits have the same mix of "good eggs" and genuinely heartless people as you'll find in any other sector. I was laid off 2-1/2 years ago from a national health organization...no notice to me. Just a surprise, quick meeting in the E.D.'s office, then escorted to my area to collect my personal items, and shown the door.. wasn't even allowed to turn off my computer or send a brief good-bye message to co-workers... The kicker is, this organization has a Huge human resources department...but please note for future reference: it's "Human" Resources, not "Humane Resources"...

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Nonprofits are all about mission. While that is different than the for-profit world that is all about profits, it is not just a feel good and happy place where everyone gets along. If getting rid of your founding ED is the best for carrying out the mission, then that is what the organization should do (even if your ED is a wonderful person that has done great things for the organization in the past). The people that work for the nonprofit are not more important than the mission of the agency (that includes the founder). It isn't about who is more dedicated and who has built what relationships, it is about who can best accomplish the agency's mission. Nonprofits strive to maximize their mission. Welcome to the nonprofit sector.

    Jun 08, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Bingo!

    Jun 10, 2011

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