Dealing with bullies in your non-profit boardroom

bullyI was just talking to a group of volunteer board members and the topic turned to “bullies in the boardroom”. I suspect that you know what I am talking about. This person takes many different forms, such as:

  • The need to always be right.
  • They dominate the conversation.
  • They may talk over other people.
  • They get angry and aggressively assert their opinions.
  • They mock people who don’t agree.

As you might imagine, a conversation like this quickly turns to the question: “How do you handle board volunteers like this?

Being a former youth development professional, I decided to look for general resources on how to deal with bullies and see if there might be commonality between how to deal with a school yard bully versus a boardroom bully.

I actually found a really good blog post at wikiHow titled “How to deal with bullies” and there was some very nice advice that crossed over such as:

  • Show minimal reaction to bullying
  • Help others
  • Do not make jokes at your own expense to try to prove that there is nothing they can do to hurt your feelings

Of course, some of the other suggestions fell flat for me like “Take Karate”. LOL  If you have a moment, I really suggest that you click the wikiHow link and scan that article because bullying is a big deal issue in all walks of life.

There are two other thoughts that immediately come to mind when discussing this topic:

  1. Board development
  2. Firing board members

 Board Development

You can solve your agency’s bully problem before it even starts if you get serious about board development. Your recruitment process should not be hasty. It should feel like a dating process with multiple steps. For some reason, that song “Getting to Know” from The King & I comes to mind. Do I need to say any more?  Click here to visit the National Council of Nonprofits’s webpage if you need some basic board development tools for your agency.

Firing a volunteer

I always hate this discussion because I believe it should never get to this point. However, a bully in the boardroom is an intolerable situation, and it needs to always be dealt with. There is no easy way to do this, and it is always done with a nervous stomach. I could write page on this subject, but our friends at Nonprofit Hearts did a nice job with a post they titled “Firing a Board member with grace“. I suggest you click over and read what they have to say. They even do a nice job with dialog.

Have you ever had to deal with a bully in your nonprofit boardroom? What did you do that seemed to work? How did it turn out. We can all learn from each other. Please use the comment box below to share some of your thoughts and experiences.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. What happens when a bunch of redneck bullies take over the board room? They vote all their redneck cronies in and take over. Things happening like: voting all the hard working people off the board (when they don’t agree whit them, start fights and bully, run the president off by cussing him out in front of his kids, and much more. Need help.

  2. Our bully is the former XO and current Treasurer. He founded the place, and while he does not act like that gives him agency, he finds other ways to bully. He is very tall, and very imposing. He is very smart, and has been heard to say “I’ve forgotten twice as much as you know.” He gives you a pitying look as you are trying to explain something. The rules change whether he is talking or you are talking. At a recent open BoD meeting someone said something that he perceived to be a lie, and he got in their face and shouted at them. Our President was GREAT, and made him “sit down and shut up” but it was damaging. I could go on and on.

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