One by one, they staggered off
At first, the old Board members reacted badly with individuals talking of betrayal and the imminent collapse of civilisation, but they had little choice and one by one, including the old Chair, they staggered off leaving the new Board to bring in a governance expert, set up more open transparent procedures and in time the Board even contained two beneficiaries who confirmed the huge benefits the charities new programme was making to all their lives. Next the director was charged with developing monitoring and evaluation procedures to ensure the work was measured and remained relevant.
Charities are often not half so malleable or interested in change, and boards often sleep on, shuffling the papers and making no real decisions from year to year. Indeed the zombie board is almost a built in tendency with elderly amateurs, who take a passing interest in the cause, and are often the only people willing to serve on them.
Fundraising as unnecessary evil
Fundraising, for them, is sometimes not just seen as a necessary evil but a rather unnecessary one, as if funds arrived by magic because they were deserved not because they were professionally sought. This is turn gives zombie directors free rein to do very little for a very long time.
The, perhaps mythical, US model whereby board members take an active role in fundraising and are famously tasked to “give, get or get off” at least involves board members in events, meeting the major supporters of the organisation and in learning about the everyday reality of the work through presentations, field trips and meeting beneficiaries, not that this cannot also be achieved through well run communications programmes etc.
Sometimes zombie boards are so bad at their job that the Charity Commission is called upon to close the organisation, and sometimes it actually does exercise its guardianship powers and close organisations, though this seems to be mostly when there is fraud involved.
Given a zombie board and a zombie director an organisation can stagger on almost indefinitely until financial collapse puts it out of its misery. The situation is especially prevalent when a charismatic founder passes on after long years of devoted service. These bright, driven and passionate people often cannot abide contradiction and argument so more often than not they appoint ‘yes’ people as their lieutenants and key partners.
The answer to zombies? The super-hero
Indeed the organisations funds may also come from their contacts whose loyalty is to the founder, rather than the organisation itself, and who may be the first to note that it has ‘lost its way’ if the true path is not followed. Courting such donors in post-founder years may fall to acolytes remaining on the board who are then unmovable because of their perceived connections. It is often better to give free reign to fundraisers to invest raising new funding streams.
The answer to zombies on top really often comes from someone with great personal courage and organisational insight, who is prepared to put their position on the line and doing what they think is morally right – enter the super-hero.
Zombies on the Board was first published on UK Fundraising.
Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom at FreeDigitalPhotos.net