When Should a Board Ask an Executive Director to Resign?

by Jill Leviticus

The executive director of your nonprofit organization plays a critical role in carrying out the board’s vision. It’s hard for the organization to be effective if the board doesn’t have a positive, productive relationship with the executive director. Several different types of issues might lead to your decision to ask for the executive director’s resignation.

Unsavory Behavior

Theft, embezzlement or other criminal behavior justifies immediate termination of the executive director. Although the organization could file criminal charges against the director, you might decide to avoid the negative publicity and instead demand a resignation. Any behavior that paints the executive director, and by extension the organization, in a bad light can lead to your decision. For example, an employee who makes headlines by stalking an ex-spouse or one who drunkenly insults donors at a fundraising event can damage the reputation of the organization.

Vision Disagreements

Your board has probably put a great deal of thought into your mission and long-range plans. As the face of your organization, it’s the executive director’s responsibility to promote and support the board’s vision. Disagreements about vision can occur for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you recently changed the focus of your organization, and the executive director no longer feels she can support the change. It’s also possible that she took the job secretly hoping to change the organization’s direction and became frustrated when she realized that the board was happy with its current plans. No matter what the cause, it’s important to work with an executive director who fully supports the board’s vision.

Lone Wolf Syndrome

If your executive director disagrees with the board’s vision, she might decide to make major decisions without informing the board. She also might conceal important information that the board needs to make informed decisions about issues. Your executive director can’t be effective without some degree of autonomy and latitude, but a director who makes decisions with a total disregard for strategic plans and policies causes serious problems for your organization. If she’s not willing to follow the board’s plan and mission, you might have no other choice than to ask for her resignation.

Failure to Produce

You probably set goals for your executive director when you hired her, such as increasing donations or expanding your service area. If she’s failed to meet these goals, it might be time to hire a new executive director. Before you ask for her resignation, make sure the goals are reasonable and consider any extenuating circumstances that might have made reaching those goals difficult or impossible. The Good Counsel website notes that it’s important to reach a consensus regarding how you will define success, report impact and measure results when you evaluate an executive director’s performance.

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