Most of people who volunteer to join a Not-For-Profit (NFP or For Purpose) Board because they hope to be involved in a process of change and make a difference. Whether it is a health or inclusion-startup 593341 640based cause or just to give people a voice – the board member wants to be part of that change.

What happens though, when one of those board members has firm opinions and will not listen to the opinions of others, or seems to be always influencing decisions or is disrespectful to other board members or staff? You might not think so, but you probably have a bully on your board.

This has obviously become an issue in the governance arena with the Fair Work Commissioner opening up workplace bullying laws to senior levels, including board members in 2017.

Directors are seen as workers and have the same rights and responsibilities as all other workers in an organisation. But how many NFP’s have the time, people, resources or money to lodge formal bullying claims against anyone, yet alone volunteer directors? What steps should you take if you feel that a particular director has unfair influence over decisions or isn’t allowing open and transparent discussions?


The most obvious step is to put in place a decent vetting and recruitment process for potential board members. Understand the skills your organisation lacks and identify someone who can bring those skills to the table. You need strategic and long term thinkers, not someone who wants to be ‘down in the weeds’ and involved in the day to day activities. But as we know, no recruitment process is perfect and is of no use if you inherit an established board.


The Board Chair’s role is to manage and provide leadership to the board members. The Chair is accountable to the Board and is the liaison point with management through the CEO – or at least that’s how it is meant to work according to the rule book. Those of us that have worked with volunteer boards know that this isn’t always the case. Providing some training for the Chair may help them understand the importance of their role and how to manage and negate the misuse of director authority or influence if the situation arises. The Chair (and board) needs to understand what the constitution says about removing board members and what limits they have to abide by.


If you have provided training, but the Chair is unable or unwilling to deal with the bully at the table – what other options do you have? You may have to encourage some coaching for the difficult director. The rules of proper governance say that this should be by the Chair or another director, but as is often the case with NFP boards, all directors are relatively new or inexperienced. Sometimes senior management is best placed to lead these conversations, purely because they understand the needs of the organisation. But always cover yourself by having the Chair or another director present during these conversations.


Picking your battles is also important. As a member of the Executive you need to clearly understand the difference between behaviour that is illegal as opposed to unethical or just really annoying. If the behaviour is impacting on staff moral or your organisation’s reputation you need to step up. But if you just find the way a director acts irritating but it is not impacting on the organisation, you seriously have to think about the amount of time you need to invest in trying to change them. Maybe you need to think about more creative ways to manage your interaction with that board member.


Regardless of which path you take, you need to act on it. If you do have a problem director, hoping they will go away or change is not realistic. A true bully can be very clever and calculating in their behaviour so it needs to be addressed as quickly as possible. Creating a collegiate approach between other board members and getting them all on the same page isn’t easy, but it is the best place to start. Tough decisions are always easier when you have everyone on the same side.


Lighthouse will be running a workshop series specifically for Not-For-Profit or For Purpose organisations starting on the 12th February. To find out more visit 

About Lighthouse Business Innovation Centre
Lighthouse has a strong track record of supporting entrepreneurs, researchers and inventers on the path from concept to commercialisation. Since July 2008, Lighthouse has worked with over 990 distinct enterprises and provided group and peer based services to over 3400 enterprises and individuals. For over five years Lighthouse has successfully delivered business advice, education, mentorship and networking opportunities to help these businesses commercialise their ideas and grow their companies. Lighthouse also delivers programs such as the ACT Microcredit Program for the ACT Government. Visit for more information.