How to Stop Meddling Board Members

Last week I heard two people suggest that many Executive Directors don’t really want their board members engaged.


Because they are afraid their board members will “meddle.”

What do I mean by meddling?

It’s when a well-meaning board member pushes a personal idea or agenda that is not an organizational or staff priority.

Meddling board members may have the staff walking on eggshells.

The trustee may come up with a strategy, tactic, or issue that he or she thinks is really urgent and important.

But the problem is that it’s simply not in the business or operating plan.

Sure, it might be a cool idea, but the staff’s already got more to do than they can handle.

When things get sticky.

When a meddling board member is bothering staff about their personal hot issue, things can get very sticky.

It’s very distracting to the staff who may have to walk on eggshells.

It’s a fine line to try to honor the board member’s good intentions and ideas, but also ignore or deflect their idea, and still not turn them off.

Sometimes the staff has to clean up after a board member who’s gone off on a tangent, and created tension and confusion.

It takes valuable time and energy away from the very, very important work at hand.

(Read my post on Board Members Gone Wild!)

So, how do you prevent a board member from meddling?

The solution? Give them plenty of other important work do to.

Load them up with action items. Then they won’t have the time or energy to create additional work.

It’s the board member who doesn’t have anything to do, who tends to create work.

And often it’s the wrong kind of work.

YOU should create their To Do list.

YOU should create the board members' "To Do" list. Not them.

Don’t let THEM create their own list!

And by “you”  I mean board and staff leaders alike.

It’s the leadership that agrees on the priorities, generates agreement from everyone, and creates the To Do List. Not individual board members.

I believe in giving board members plenty of action items to accomplish.

Give them something meaningful to do.

Don’t let them guess what you need them to do – otherwise you just may have someone who’s trying to head in a wrong direction.

What action items can you have them do?

  • Tours:

Try systematically organizing tours of your office or field trips to see your work.  Invite community leaders, donors and friends to take the tours.

Have a board member host each tour.

Ask each board member to host one tour a year for their network and contacts.

  • Thank donors:

Have them write thank you notes to donors.

Ask them to phone donors to say thank you.

Ask them to host parties for your donors to make them feel like insiders.

Ask them to host a thankathon to warm up donors before your annual fall appeal.

Have them host Porch Parties to introduce their friends to the cause.

Ask them to host social gatherings, coffees, meetings to spread the word and make new friends.

  • Solicit gifts:

Seek sponsorships for your next event. Give everybody a call list and names to cover.

Make phone calls to followup annual fund appeals.

See my post 14 Easy Ways Board Members Can Raise Money.

  • Identify prospects:

Have them create a VIP Prospect List for your organization.

Moral of the story:

If you put board members to work constructively, they will typically stay with the plan.

Distract them with plenty of the right kind of work and they won’t go off on personal tangents. (we hope!)

How do YOU keep your well-meaning volunteers on task and in action?

Leave a comment and let us know!

  • Dworrell

    Sure but how do you tell board membrs who have been on the board 20 plus years what to do.  How do yu undo years of poor board leadwership?


  • anonymous

    Hi Gail,
    Sorry, but your suggestions just add to my already too-long to-do list, and my board members are already engaged in most of what you’ve suggested.  What would be useful is to have some “kid glove” language to respectfully deflect the board member who suggests that Un-do-able idea, honors their enthusiasm and keeps them happy. I think that we all know that listening, respectfully, helps, but do you have any language suggestions?
    Keeping the Ship Afloat in Maine

  • Anonymous

    Hi Don, got it! this can be a tough call.  Can’t you get your board chair to work with you to come up with some action items for your board? Does your board just think their job is to come to meetings and talk?  Can you try to enlist some new board members who have energy and vision – and empower them as change agents?

  • Anonymous

    Alas, never let it be said that I added to someone’s already long to-do list! : )
    Try these ideas for language:  “Great idea, let’s see how it fits into our operating plan.”
    Or, “Well, we’ve already decided to do xyz project/program.  Now, we don’t have enough staff resources to do both your idea and these other ones. How do we make the decision on where to allocate our resources?”
    Or, “Great idea! Maybe we can plan for it next year.”

    I’ve seen some ED’s who’ve established a mind frame with board members that resources are scarce, and plans have to be made deliberately. You can always hide behind your plan.

  • I think this is a good start. But what happens to me is I say “We don’t have enough staff resources to do both your idea and these other ones” and then the board member offers to take on his or her idea and do MOST of the work. It ends up falling back on me most of the time because of course, the projects end up being way more involved than the board member had considered. And most of the time, doesn’t that person want to work on his or her idea rather than the other things I might really need help with, like ideas mentioned above?

  • I think enlisting the new board members is where it’s at. It’s tougher when the new board members are not in leadership positions on the board. It might take longer to make change, but I think it can be done. At least I hope so because that’s the route I am taking.

  • Anonymous

    What I do with new board members is I say “you are here to be change agents, if you are willing. We hope you will be willing to take initiative in . . . . (area.)  Every time I’ve done this, it’s worked fairly well.

    When all else fails, remember term limits are your friend!

  • Anonymous

    I agree this IS a tough position for you. How do you educate board members about how they are supposed to act vis-a-vis the organizational plan and staff? I find that if board members have a professional working background, they are somewhat more likely to respect the plan. (but not all the time.) It’s a cultural issue that can be changed over time. But a board that runs amok like that would drive me crazy!

  • Dawn Price

    This is where an active, meaningful strategic plan is a huge help.  “That’s not part of our strategic priorities” is a great response when well-meaning board members try to push their own agendas.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Dawn, you’re right! Your response is the safest and easiest way to bring logic to a tough situation!