Sitting on a board is an intensive, often stressful experience - of course, the rewards will outweigh the negatives for most, but there will always be some people who aren’t able to commit the resources to being a board member. And that’s ok.
Other times, personalities, missions, or work ethics will clash too much for a board member to feel comfortable continuing in their position.
These situations happen, and often a committee will be prepared to handle a member stepping down. But rarely, things may conspire in such a way that a whole board chooses to resign at the same time.
The now-former members could have many different reasons for doing so, or they could all have the same reason, but at the end of the day the organisation now has no board of directors. So what happens? Let’s have a look.
When the board of a for-profit company walks away en masse, it’s likely being done in protest of the way a CEO, Executive Director, or founder is handling the business or treating employees/customers.
There are numerous ways that such problems could normally be solved - most obvious among them being that the board has the right to fire a CEO, provided they have a majority vote in doing so.
But the catch comes with the bylaws - a founding member can craft bylaws in such a way that virtually nothing can be done without their (or whoever sits in their position’s) approval. These things often don’t get noticed when times are good and nobody needs to check the bylaws, but once things start blowing up, there can be some unpleasant surprises.
This is what most often leads to walk-outs; typically, though, the leaving members will have the integrity to announce their decision and allow the organisation’s shareholders to elect new members from the company or the community in their place in an emergency general meeting.
The process for a non-profit organisation handling a mass board resignation is similar to that of a for-profit, but with one key difference: the non-profit has no shareholders to provide votes for new board members.
In this case, the NFP still has a community whom it serves. It could be as small as a local theatre or sports club, or as big as a global, household-name charity, but the whole point of establishing a NFP organisation is, first and foremost, to serve a community. Members of that community will know, interact with, and often become board members when such opportunities arise.
This means that, provided the environment which caused the mass resignation hasn’t led to the dissolution of the organisation, these community members can often be called upon to step up and take a seat on the committee.
Terms can be negotiated, and sometimes this will just be a temporary solution, but like we said, NFPs serve the community first, and if the community is taken care of, that’s all that should matter.
If you ever find yourself in this situation, try to look at it as a learning experience. How did the organisation get to this point? What specifically led to members stepping down? Could it have been resolved with a less drastic solution, or was there only one option?
The answers to these can be positive lessons to take to your future endeavours, or they can be chances to grow as a human being and business person. It’s always complicated.