How to Move “Nit-Picky” Board Members from Annoying to Awesome

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Nit-picky board members. You know the ones. Every nonprofit board has at least one. They’re the ones who always seem to dig in on one minor line item in the budget without context, or endlessly question random statistics in the President’s report until everyone has forgotten the report’s findings altogether.

After the meeting, you and others exchange looks of exhausted disbelief and say things like “Oh MY GAWD. She is Such A PAIN!”.

All the while, the particular board member leaves the meeting clueless to her “offense” and happy she made such valuable contributions, or frustrated because she sensed the mounting tension and resistance to her inquiries.

Neither of these scenarios is good.

Organizations have many ways of dealing with this particular challenge. Unfortunately most choose to tolerate the person until… collective sigh of relief… she rolls off the board or becomes so disgruntled that she leaves.

Again, neither of these scenarios is good.

The appropriate reaction is to realize:

  1. You won’t change her or her nit-picky ways
  2. She’s acting out of a desire to help and a sense of responsibility
  3. She has the potential to be one of your board’s most valuable assets

Leopards and Their Spots

No matter what you try, you’re not going to change this person's behavior. It’s simply how they are wired.

While the best approach isn’t to ignore them, working to “correct the behavior” can be like winning a puking contest. Believe me, nobody’s a winner when they’re covered in puke!

The Muckety-Muck Factor

The trick is to understand why this person feels the need to “contribute” in this fashion.

In a manuscript that has been sitting in draft outline form for years, I plan to describe this in more detail, but essentially:

Board members often join without accurate expectations, orientation, or education.

They feel that a board position is a significant responsibility and want to treat it as such, yet they are uncertain what their role is, how they can add value, or that someone might discover they are “a fraud” who knows nothing about guiding a nonprofit.

As a result of these thoughts, and often lacking any other direction, the person (over)compensates by doing the best that she can by looking for any possible opportunity to highlight what she feels is a potential threat to the organization’s mission.

What follows is an attempt to add value. Unfortunately she comes across as a muckety-muck and everyone else wishes she would just shut up.

From Zero to Hero

By realizing this person’s detail-oriented and driven nature and being honest with yourself about how well she was on-boarded, it’s very likely that you’ll discover her true potential as a rockstar board member.

One who’s not afraid to speak up when necessary, one who’s capable of analytical and/or strategic thought, and one who has the extremely valuable skill of bird-dogging teams or process.

Opportunities for this person to shine are in governance (where she may address any missing or antiquated new board member orientation steps), project lead or event chair (where she will excel at keeping things on track), or she might make a great officer or committee chair.

By recognizing this person’s unique personality traits as valuable skills, and helping her find the right means of applying them, you’ll move her from annoying to awesome, and some day wonder how you ever managed without her.