DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have the pleasure of serving on a nonprofit board in my community for a volunteer program, which takes up a great deal of my time. I am entirely new to board membership -- being young and only recently graduated from college -- and am finding myself ignorant about how to proceed in certain cases.
One such case is before me: It’s been proposed that we add to the board a volunteer with our organization who, though personally pleasant and energetic, I find extremely difficult to work with. She has engaged in some really thoughtless spending with the nonprofit’s money, and created a paperwork fiasco that endangered our founding grant.
We have open meetings, so I find myself with the unlovely choices of announcing these qualms in front of her, going behind her back to tell other board members what I think privately, or standing aside from the vote. Or faking sick until the issue is resolved without me.
We live in quite a small community, and I am worried about antagonizing someone who has worked very hard for us, even though she often works very hard at doing things that we then spend time trying to fix. Do the rules of courtesy have any proposals for how to deal with such a case?
GENTLE READER: It is time to learn a phrase that is familiar to every board member with only slightly more experience than yourself: executive session.
This is the part of the meeting when the board sends away the nonmembers so they can talk about the staff (or anyone else) behind their backs.
Far from being something that board members apologize for, it is the time when they can carry out their primary duty of oversight, or, in this case, vetting the future leadership of the organization. Even nonprofits assert their ability to run “like a business,” and this is the time to prove it by expressing your concerns in an impersonal, matter-of-fact way.
Miss Manners will not, however, object if you conclude your remarks by saying what a nice, well-meaning person she is -- you just felt duty-bound to raise the issue of her past performance.