A quick Google search reveals hundreds of articles on joining a board. Many offer great advice on how to choose a board that is right for you, what questions you should ask before joining a board, and how to get the most from your board position.
Unfortunately, not all unions between board members and organizations are a match made in heaven. As important as it is to know how to join a board, it is equally important to know how to gracefully exit and resign from a board.
One of the worst ways to resign from a board is to merely stop attending meetings. This “solution” doesn’t fix the problem; you are still on the board! You still carry the same responsibilities and liabilities of other active members without the ability to share your expertise or opinion on issues of the organization.
Depending on the size of the organization, you may be preventing them from having a quorum usually required to make any decisions and essentially tying the hands of those members who are attending the meetings.
Before resigning from a board, one should identify the reason behind the feeling that the resignation is necessary and identify if there are other potential solutions to the problem.
One of the most common reasons is the feeling that there are not enough hours in the day and that you do not have enough time to dedicate to effectively serve on a board. If this is the case and you still believe strongly in the organization, then look into potentially stepping down from a board position and consider serving on a committee of the board, which typically requires a smaller time commitment.
If the commitment of a committee still consumes too much time, maybe there is any opportunity to volunteer within the organization. Is there a finite period of time when you will be busy, potentially a long-term project at work or another temporary reason? Then maybe there is a possibility of taking a leave of absence from the board and becoming active when you have time again.
Another common reason for a resignation is that you have fundamental concerns regarding either the organization itself or the executive director. It would be easier to dodge the real reason for the resignation in this case but that would be a disservice to both you and the organization.
In this situation, consider raising your concerns to the board chairman before finalizing your decision to resign. If this is still an organization that you feel passionate about, this might provide an opportunity to really enhance and improve the organization and stay involved. If the end result is still a resignation, you may have provided valuable feedback to the organization that will strengthen it. Either way you have faced the situation instead of avoiding it and will potentially still have helped the organization.
Still a third reason for resigning would be that you feel ineffective or not able to live up to your potential as a board member. This may be because the board has a dominating executive committee which does not take full advantage of the talent of its board. This may also be because the executive director acts independently with the input of the board coming as an afterthought.
By bringing these concerns to the board chairman, you may be alerting the organization to feelings that other board members are also having and allowing the organization to more effectively utilize the talents of the board.
If after evaluating all the options, you still believe the best decision is to resign, it is necessary to do it correctly. Review the organization’s bylaws to clarify if there is a formal process for resigning specific to this board.
If there is no formal guidance in the bylaws, tell the board chair, best done in a formal letter to eliminate any miscommunication regarding intentions, dates, etc. Then personally inform both the executive director and then the full board. Give as much notice as possible so the organization can replace you and allow the new member to assimilate to the board.
It is important to tie up any loose ends and finish any outstanding commitments you have to the organization. Forcing others to clean up a mess you left behind is not part of the legacy you wish to leave. Whatever the reason, resign with both grace and poise, for the business world is a small place in the grand scheme of things.
Moses Mwariri is a Partner at FGC Kenya, a CPA Accountants and Strategy Consultancy firm. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.