Fredericton consultant Duncan Matheson has written an important account about the recent firing of Elizabeth Crawford Thurber from her job as Executive Director of Greener Village. (https://duncanmatheson.ca/blog/when-bad-things-happen-to-good-people-the-unfair-treatment-of-elizabeth-crawford-thurber)
In the story he recounts Thurber’s 30 plus years of work with the Fredericton Food Bank and then with the Greener Village after its opening. It is worth taking the time to read the story to get some sense of the political games played by the Board of Directors of Greener Village. Frankly, it casts a serious shadow on the local Seventh Day Adventist Church, especially in light of their presumed stated commitment to Christian principles.
Regrettably the story is not unique in the non-profit, poverty-alleviation world. I have seen too many instances in recent time of staff members, especially Executive Directors of some of these non-profits being treated very poorly by their volunteer Boards of Directors, who universally seem to have minimal experience in management and are present on the Boards more because of who they know than what they know.
There seems to be a transformation that occurs with some of these Board members who perhaps suddenly feel (maybe for the first time in their lives) they have some power and make it their duty to treat the employees poorly.
Bullying is not unusual and there’s an expectation on the part of some Board members that when they say “jump”, the staff’s only response should be “how high”? Quite frankly, that is bullshit.
Many Board members will tell you that they serve on the Boards as a way of giving back to the community, but they often forget that the poorly paid staff are doing exactly the same thing. The only reason the staff stay in their jobs most of the time is because they care deeply about the people they serve and are prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to provide that service.
I know of one Executive Director who took a voluntary cut in pay to enable their organization to meet its obligations. Later, after nearly eight years of service, the Board of Directors finally decided a pay increase was in order which amounted to less than .25% per year – that’s POINT-TWO-FIVE (one quarter of one) percent over nearly 8 years. My understanding from someone else is that the Board congratulated itself on its generosity to that employee.
The Executive Director subsequently left the organization, taking valuable institutional knowledge and the Board made no attempt to convince the individual to stay. The attitude seemed to be, “well, you’re replaceable”. Or, “we can find someone else to do a better job.”
Admittedly, not every Board member on every Board is like that, but there are far too many.
A huge part of the problem goes back to the “who you know” problem. So many non-profits have to scratch the bottom of the barrel to find people willing to serve. Often it’s a case of finding a name for nomination without worrying about whether that person knows anything or fits the goals of the organization. When problems later develop, most often fingers are pointed at staff for their poor recruitment techniques.
The real problem is inept Board management where everyone except Board members are to blame for any problems that may develop.
Sadly Elizabeth Thurber Crawford’s case is the tip of the iceberg.