The Right Way to Resign from the Board

Board Café

The Right Way to Resign from the Board


  October 15, 2007
A few weeks ago I resigned from a nonprofit board because I was just missing too many meetings. But I botched my resignation; I didn't have a good ending to my board service. This issue of the Board Café suggests better ways to resign, whether because of time commitments, a conflict with the executive director, or a concern that the board isn't really doing anything. – Jan Masaoka, Chef/Editor
This month’s tidbits

A nice way to start an upcoming board meeting would be to ask each person to give the background on his or her first or last name. There is probably an interesting immigration story, a childhood nicknaming, or other story that will help you remember their names, and share the history that comes to the board. But tell everyone to keep it short—say one-and-a-half minutes!


Did you know that Wikipedia—the free online encyclopedia that anyone can write an article for—is the second most visited site on the web? And that if your organization isn't on it, it should be? Take a look at the entries for well-known organizations such as the NAACP and the American Cancer Society. You can edit an entry about your organization (or one you know) and you can create an entry for your organization if there isn't one already. It's an opportunity to let people know not only about your nonprofit, but about its constituency, clients, and cause.

This month’s main course article


Very often board members not only complete one term, they get to their term limits, and leave the board feeling good about what they've contributed. But there are also times when we resign before we get to our term limits. Maybe we just haven't had the time to attend meetings, or maybe we're moving to another city. Maybe we really don't feel right about the direction the organization is taking, or maybe we feel that board members are treated like "mushrooms": kept in the dark and fed manure (!). Regardless of your reason, your resignation can be a moment where the board's effectiveness is demonstrated and increased, or it can be a nothing. Here are some ways to make significance out of your resignation:

  • If you have concerns about the organization or the executive director, but haven't voiced them, consider raising them to the board president before finalizing your decision to resign. We know one organization where seven former board members were interviewed—and every one of them had resigned because they weren't happy with the ED, yet they never told anyone. At a minimum, raise your concern to the board chair or an officer you know: "The reason I'm really resigning is because I don't feel confident that Jim is doing a good job as executive director. I can't work constructively with him, but at the same time, I don't want to prevent the rest of you from working with him. I wanted to be honest with you about why I'm resigning, and later on it may be important for you to know why."
  • If you've been AWOL due to other commitments: "I haven't been the board member I wanted to be. And I realize it's demoralizing to everyone when someone is as absent as I have been. I don't think things will change for me, so I've decided to resign." If this is your situation, commit to do one more specific task after leaving, such as getting two items for the upcoming silent auction, or attending the city council hearing on zoning next month.
  • If you are resigning because you strongly disagree with a major organizational decision, consider staying on as the "loyal opposition." Hopefully the decision was discussed and debated before being made, and you should be aware that leaving may look like "sour grapes." But if you're out-of-step with everyone else, and you aren't comfortable staying, leave gracefully but with principle. Consider writing a letter to the board explaining your position, and read it aloud at your last board meeting. Ask to have it entered into the minutes. The board members who were absent at the meeting will hear your comments, and years later the record of the debate may help the board of the future.
  • If you simply feel ineffective as a board member, think about why that's so. Is it because the board has an executive committee that decides everything of importance, leaving little for the whole board to do? Is it because neither the executive director nor the board chair really knows what to do with the board and with board members? Is it because the executive acts on his or her own and the board is an afterthought? Can these questions be raised with the board's leaders who can address them with you?

Whatever the reason, resign right. Tell the board chair first, then the executive director, then the whole board. If you will be attending one more meeting, bring cookies or another gesture of goodwill. They will be listening carefully to your "last words," so make the most of the moment to contribute to the organization and its cause-just as you did when you first joined the board.

Related previous articles archived at


The Board Café Emporium

 Different items each issue . . . and many are free

Great Boards for Small Groups: A 1-Hour guide to Governing A Growing Nonprofit, by Andy Robinson. Available at or

Nonprofit Genie. Get a free, excellent series of Frequently Asked Questions and answers about fundraising, written by the legendary fundraiser Kim Klein., then select "Fundraising". Nonprofit organizations above a certain size are required to submit Form 990 to the IRS each year. You can see your organization’s 990, as well as the 990s of others, at

Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Orgs, A Practical Guide & Workbook, 2nd edition, by Mike Allison & Jude Kaye. This guide can be adapted to fit any timeframe and is filled with real-world insights, planning tips, and useful pointers. Available at

Boards That Love Fundraising: A How To Guide for Your Board, by Robert Zimmerman and Ann Lehman. Available at for $29.00 plus shipping + handling.

Planet 501c3, by Miriam Engelberg. The cartoon strip for nonprofits. Free at


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