Board Cafe: The Right Way to Resign from the Board

Board Cafe

The Right Way to Resign from the Board

By Jan Masaoka

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.

Original publication date: 10/15/2007

© 2007 CompassPoint Nonprofit Services


Looking for more research, thought leadership,
and news from the nonprofit sector? 

Stay in Touch with CompassPoint!

Sign up for our e-newsletters and start receiving: 

  • To The Point, our weekly e-newsletter of curated news and resources on nonprofit management, leadership, and strategy
  • Our monthly e-Catalog of upcoming trainings and leadership intensives
  • Periodic emails on special programs and opportunities.

Sign Up Here