The biggest cardinal sin an executive director can commit

sinWorking with organizations in New Mexico and West Texas means lots of windshield time, and last week I found myself contemplating the question: “What is the biggest cardinal sin a non-profit executive director can commit?” In the final analysis, my conclusion surprised me, which means it was destined to end up here on the DonorDreams blog for you to chew on and contemplate.
In the time you’ve read the first paragraph, your mind already probably started spinning and there are so many good possibilities to choose from, right? Here are just a few examples:

  • embezzlement
  • letting the agency’s fundraising program die on the vine
  • not fostering an organization culture of planning
  • not being transparent
  • treating donors like an ATM
  • hiring bad staff
  • misuse of funds

I could go on and on. You probably already have many more examples to share (and I encourage you to do so in the comment box below).
As for my ย number one answer that I finally settled on?

Not understanding, building and supporting a good board development process.

There is a lot that goes into this sweeping generalization. Here are just a few examples:

  • Allowing board prospects to be targeted without any consideration of expectations and necessary skill sets
  • Recruiting prospects without helping them see what they are saying ‘YES’ to doing
  • Failing to develop an annual evaluation and recognition process for board volunteers
  • Failing to provide orientation and ongoing board training

I could provide more examples, but I think you get the idea.
The reason this turned out to be my number one answer is because this cardinal sin provides the fertile ground for all of the other sins I listed at the start of this post.
For example, it is the existence of a weak and unsupported board that creates the conditions for embezzlement or misuse of funds.
Please use the comment box below to share your idea of the biggest cardinal sin and why. Also offer a solution while you’re at it. ย ๐Ÿ˜‰
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. I, personally, think there’s an even bigger sin. Everything you’ve mentioned is a symptom of losing the passion for the mission. Someone who has lost their passion is purposefully putting roadblocks toward board development and the result is going to be bad staff, bad fiscal management, and organizational disorganization.

    1. Thanks for weighing-in with your thoughts.
      I agree with you that this needs to be on the list, but I think I’m sticking with my original opinion. The reason is that part of “supporting board development” is helping the board maintain its mission focus.
      I suspect we’re agreeing and saying the same thing. My “sin” is broadly worded and takes in many things including what you’re suggesting.
      Regardless, thanks for commenting. I hope we see a lot more of you around here. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. New Mexico and West Texas were my old stomping grounds. I never understood how they even were chartered to begin with!

    I even had Terlingua,Texas. The smallest Club in the U.S. I could through a rock out the back door into the Rio Grande River!

  3. I agree with AHP but think a big sin is not making sure that the easiest people are part of your development process; the staff! If you have a leader who does not create an open door policy, your stagnate creativity and the desire to be an ambassador and most staff are doing something there for the mission, not the money. Solution: Make sure there is an environment of appreciation and inclusion. It’s not that difficult to say thanks to your staff first.

    1. Beth . . . thanks for sharing. I need to process your suggestion a little longer, but I think we’re going to end up agreeing to disagree on this one. Maybe not? Regardless, thanks for jumping into this topic with both feet. Please feel free to do so more often. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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