8 Types of Annoying Board Members

Organizational Management February 23, 2021

Terry Ibele

By Terry Ibele

Nonprofits are a magical place filled with super passionate, hardworking, and extremely motivated individuals. I've had many opportunities to work with some of these fantastic people and it's been an absolute pleasure.

But, sometimes when you get a bunch of equally passionate people in one room for a board meeting, some people's quirks become apparent.

Here's my list of the top 8 most annoying types of board members. Hopefully you don't know anyone on your board that fits into these categories.

Oh, and yes, I drew all these terribly bad drawings.

 

1. The Ideas Person

ideas

This person comes up with a million ideas a minute, but none of them are substantiated with any data. It's like you're paying this person to just think off the top of their head.

"Wouldn't it be great if..."

"How about if..."

"If only we..."

If you were to list the top ten words they use on a daily basis, "if" would be number one. This person is all talk and no walk. They spew ideas out like a smokestack, but you can't remember them ever taking action on any of them.

 

What you can do:

This person's intentions are good — they want to help your nonprofit, so they try to think of every possible way to do it. First of all, make them feel heard and appreciated by acknowledging their ideas and effort. Say something like "Thank you so much for suggesting that, we should definitely add it to the list of things to consider."

Then, be sure to stress how little time and resources you have, and how you would love to be able to do it all, but unfortunately have to prioritize. Say this clearly and say it often. Don't direct it at the Ideas Person specifically, but say it to the whole group. This will hopefully help them understand why their ideas weren't utilized without making them uncomfortable and unappreciated. 

Finally, if you have a bit of time, give the Ideas Person a chance to elaborate on their ideas. Prompt them to answer the hard questions about how the idea would realistically be carried out and what outcome it would help achieve. If the action they're suggesting truly isn't feasible or helpful, they'll quickly realize this and will be more selective with what they suggest in the future. 

 

2. The Rambler

rambler

"Short and sweet" is a saying for a reason, but the Rambler has never heard these words.
 
Somehow they're able to take a "yes" or "no" answer and squeeze out a twenty minute rambling session. You've heard their whole life story, plus the life stories of their family, friends, and even their neighbour's dog's sitter's cousin.

If you've got a Rambler on your board, you know your meetings will never end on time.

 

What you can do:

When sending out an agenda for each meeting, include the time allotted for each point. For example:

Agenda item: Decide on whether or not to move ahead with the annual gala
Time: 15 minutes

At the beginning of each meeting, make a quick point about how you have a lot to get through, so you'll be sticking to the allotted time for each agenda item. Then, during the meeting, don't hesitate to cut a conversation short. You can say something like "In the interest of getting through everything and leaving this meeting on time, let's continue this conversation offline or come back to it next time". 

This may feel uncomfortable at first, but the more you do it, and the more diligent you become about it, the more people will get used to it and come to respect the deadlines you create.  

Read More: How to Run a Successful Nonprofit Board Meeting in 8 Steps

 

3. The Resister

resister

Throw 100 ideas at this person, and they'll shoot down every one of them. What's worse is that the Resister keeps complaining about nothing changing, but they resist change to everything! They're the first to point out that you need more members, or sponsors, or funds, but they never want to try anything new.

No matter what supportive evidence of a great idea, the Resister will always find some worry or flaw (no matter how minuscule) and blow it out of proportion.

What worked in their day is the only way, so good luck convincing this person to try a social media strategy, or to start collecting payments online. If you check their LinkedIn profile, you'll likely find "solid as a rock" as their most valuable skill.

 

What you can do:

Ask the Resister what they think the best course of action is or if they have any ideas of their own. If the idea is feasible, you can even take it one step further  and ask if they'd be willing to take on its execution. 

Having ownership of an idea and a responsibility to see it through will help the Resister focus more of their energy on their own task at hand, instead of shooting everyone else down. Plus, it will help them appreciate just how difficult it is to come up with great ideas that everyone loves. 

 

4. The Debbie Downer

debbie downer

You can tell you've got a Debbie Downer on your board, when something's sucking the life out of the room. Present this person with the most exciting news ever and they'll find something just as big to complain about.

"Hey Debbie Downer, we just increased membership by 10%!"

"That's nice, but the plague is still a viable threat to our existence and elephants are still at risk of going extinct."

No matter what you do, the Debbie Downer brings the mood down. Somehow they've got a knack for turning sunshine and rainbows into a dreary day.

 

What you can do: 

You can't force Debbie Downer to stop being so negative, but you can give them more opportunities to be positive.

You don't even have to single them out. How about introducing a new practice at your board meetings where at the start of the meeting, each person takes a turn to share something they think your nonprofit has done really well recently. It will force Debbie Downer to think differently and get them into a habit of looking for something positive to share.

Plus, all the shared wins will help overshadow whatever negative comments Debbie Downer might have in store. Your board meetings will be more positive, boost morale among members, and will generally be more fun! 

Meeting Minute Checklist

5. The Jargonist

jargon

Do you remember taking a course in nonprofit speak? Apparently this person did.

Disruptive, impact, targeted, self-sufficient, alignment, synergy, and stakeholder are just a few of the words that riddle their sentences.

Half the time you can't even figure out what they're saying, but everyone in the room nods because it sounds important.

Is all the nonprofit jargon really necessary? It doesn't seem to do anything but drive everyone nuts!

 

What you can do: 

To get the Jargonist into a habit of communicating their thoughts in lay terms, don't be afraid to ask them questions like "Could you rephrase that?" or "Could you explain what you mean?". 

Once other board members hear you do that often enough, they'll be more comfortable asking for the same kind of clarification. 

 

6. The Grudge Holder

grudge

Remember that topic you thought everyone on the board resolved? The Grudge Holder won't let you forget. Take for instance that one mistake you made to the budget in 2010. That one event where attendance was less than satisfactory. That one time you forgot to count the votes for a motion. The Grudge Holder stores all these beautiful moments in a big bag and can't wait to bring them up on a whim.

It's like this person wants everyone to be stuck in the past.

And it doesn't help that they have a PhD in arguing, so prepare for your whole board meeting to be derailed. There's just no winning with this person.

 

What you can do:

Just like with the Resister, ask the Grudge Holder to answer the hard questions:

   •  What can we do to put past mistakes behind us?
   •  How can we avoid making the same mistakes again?
   •  What do they recommend is the best course of action?

Getting them to think about these questions will make them feel responsible for bringing past issues back to the surface, thus hopefully discouraging them from doing it again. And if not, then at least you'll have come away with some valuable insight into how to avoid making these mistakes in the future. 

 

7. The Completely Oblivious

unprepared

You send out the board meeting notes two weeks in advance.

You remind this person by email to read them.

You put a notice in their calendar to review the notes.

You do everything possible to keep this person informed, yet somehow they still show up to the meeting unprepared. "What notes?" they say. You can't help but shake your head.

On top of all this, they're the first to chime in with their opinion on every subject. If they'd read the notes ahead of time, they'd realize that they don't know really what they're talking about.

 

What you can do: 

The fact of the matter is, some people are just less organized than others. But sometimes, giving someone more responsibility can help them step up to the challenge and show up as their best selves. 

You can try assigning a special task to the Completely Oblivious that forces them to get familiar with the meeting notes. Then ask them to prepare a 5 minute update during the next meeting. Chances are, they'll do whatever they can to come prepared to speak in front of their fellow board members and sound like they know what they're talking about. 

Even if, for some reason, this doesn't work the first time and the Completely Oblivious still comes unprepared, hopefully the discomfort they feel having to admit it when you call upon them will discourage them from ever coming unprepared again. 

 

8. The Printer

printer

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Three words this person doesn't have in their vocabulary. The Printer prints off every presentation, email, website page, or Facebook conversation, no matter how much paper it takes.

Do they really need to print everything? The slides are already projected onto the screen and someone else is even taking meeting minutes (here's an excellent guide on meeting minutes by the way), so what gives?

They come to every board meeting with such a big stack of papers, you're seriously worried about becoming a death-by-papercut statistic.

 

What you can do:

At the end of the day, every board member should do what makes them comfortable and helps them fulfil their duty in the most efficient and enjoyable way. However, something you can do to discourage the Printer from coming to every meeting with a stack of papers is offering to print a package of materials for them. Let them know that there's no need to print anything and that everything they need will be provided for them. Then, you can control just what you print and how much paper it takes up. 

Disclaimer: this may only work the first few times before the Printer realizes the materials you provide aren't sufficient for them, but it's still better than doing nothing! 


If your board could stand to use some improvement
, read our guide for building a more effective, engaged board, or download our meeting minutes checklist. Or maybe you have a great board, in which case you'll relate more to these board characteristics.

 

At the end of the day...

Even with their quirks, these people still contribute to the organization in an invaluable way. Their passion, hard work, and dedication goes unmatched and truly makes working in the nonprofit sector rewarding.

Do you have any additional tips on working with troublesome board members? Let us know in the comments! 

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Comments

  • Jessica Levant:
    Your #1 should not be there. It is vital to have at least one idea person on the team or the whole team sinks into routine. And so that those who are good at making things happen (a different skill set) have something to work with. The premise that a good idea has to be executed by the person who had it has never proved workable. Totally different thinking pattern.
  • Terry Ibele

    Terry Ibele:
    Hi Jessica,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and you're definitely right. It is vital to have someone to generate fresh new ideas on the board. So, perhaps this person isn't all that annoying after all :)
  • Dan Bissonnette:
    Hi Terry, I really liked this blog. It was informative and also addressed many of the personality-based problems those of us who serve on boards contend with. I also appreciate the humour and the artwork. I do not object to your "Ideas" category type, but I think their main problem is pitching ideas without any willingness to carry them forward. I feel it may be more accurate to refer to these people as "Impulse". Also, may I suggest another annoying personality type that I encounter all too often? It is what I refer to as "Missing in Action". These people often miss board meetings. They seldom respond to board emails or telephone calls. These individuals may be listed on the board roster, but they are absent more than they are present and are not a genuine part of the team.
  • Tatiana Morand

    Tatiana Morand:
    Hey Dan, thanks for sharing! I'm glad you enjoyed this post. That 9th idea is a good one — I've definitely encountered that person as well. Maybe we'll have to update it again soon to include them!

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