Seattle Community

Jane Kuechle
Not Profit Consultant
Bellevue, Washington
Absolutely helpful
out of 10
2 votes

How Do You Gracefully Resign from a Nonprofit Board?

Four questions to ask yourself before you join a board and how to use those questions to help you decide if its the right place to devote your time, talent and treasure.
Written Mar 10, 2011, read 11306 times since then.


I recently posted a link on Facebook to a website that listed four questions you should be asking yourself before you join a nonprofit board:

  1. Is this an area where I have real passion?
  2.  Of all the organizations engaged in this cause is this one whose culture resonates with me?
  3.  Do I have the time, energy and resources to give this organization my best?
  4.  Do I have an interest in governance — wanting to support the organization in creating and moving a vision forward, thinking about the change they want to see in the world because they exist?

When my sister read this post on my Facebook page, she responded “How did you know I needed this?” Hmm....she needed help, so we talked.  After over 30 years in non-profit management, I retired a few months ago to hang out my shingle and see if someone could benefit from my experience. I’m still trying to figure out my niche but have always thought I could maybe help people trying to make individual philanthropic decisions.  My sister was open to a consult.

The story related to an experience she had been having over this past year.  The nonprofit board is a 501(c)3 that was created to support a government organization allowing that organization to accept charitable contributions in support of its programming. The programs that this “friends” group supports are those that are above and beyond the budget of the government entity.

My sister befriended the new director of the governmental organization, began volunteering and helped to introduce her to the local community. After a time, the director, recognizing that the “friends” group needed better organization and direction, asked my sister if she would be willing to join the board as its Chair. The “friends” group’s board members had been volunteering for many many years and all were a bit burned out and not wiling to step up and assume the leadership role of Chair. As a favor to her new friend, my sister agreed.

Then the difficulties began. She found that the IRS 990 form had not been filed in many years and the organization was in danger of loosing it’s tax exempt status. She found it extremely difficult to get people to come to meetings (although sometimes the rest of the board met without her knowledge).  It took months to get what she needed from the treasurer in order to file the forms for the back taxes, and since she had no real connection to the organization other than her friendship with the director, she felt very much like an outsider.

What to do. We talked about why she joined the board in the first place. Was this an area where she had real passion? Not really. Although it was arts related, her field, her real interest was in helping the director, not in the programing itself. Did the culture resonate with her? Certainly the culture of the board did not.  The activities the ‘“friends” group engaged in were not critical to the success of the programming. They were limited to raising funds to provide a reception once a year before the major event (and it was a pretty lame reception at that). Did she have the time? My sister has a very busy career.  The time she has available to devote to networking in support of her career is limited and she does have to make the best use of that time. This probably wasn’t it. And, did she have an interest in governance? She had had one previous board experience and it was very satisfying but she did not have the primary leadership role. With this “friends” organization she came in cold at a very high level of leadership and found she was not prepared for the issues and challenges.

It was obvious this was not a good fit. So we talked about how to gracefully extricate herself from the situation. She still wanted to remain a volunteer and still wanted to support the director. We finally concluded that the best course of action would be to resign from the board, explaining that she felt she could not do her best job because her career was demanding her time but that she still supported the goals of the organization and would continue to volunteer.

“Good job consulting Janie,” she said as we hung up. It is very satisfying to help people sort through knotty problems and issues and help them make decisions about the best use of  their time, talent and treasure for their community. 

Learn more about the author, Jane Kuechle.

Comment on this article

  • Video Production and Graphics 
Redmond, Washington 
Scott Bell
    Posted by Scott Bell, Redmond, Washington | Mar 10, 2011

    Very nice, and good timing for me as well :). Those are 4 questions that could easily be applied to any type of volunteer activity or pro bono work.

  • Life Coach 
Seattle, Washington 
Judy Stoffel Loewen
    Posted by Judy Stoffel Loewen, Seattle, Washington | Mar 10, 2011

    Great article....and timely for me as well, since I just sent my resignation to a non-profit board I have been on for a long time, and chaired for the last couple year. I knew for a while that it was time for me to go, but just couldn't seem to 'pull the trigger' - wish I had known you then, but it's a pleasure to know you now!

    I'd love to see an article on how to pick up the signs that let you know it is really time to go!

    Thanks for writing this!

  • Writing & Publishing Coach, Business & Marketing Consultant 
Bellevue, Washington 
Deborah Drake
    Posted by Deborah Drake, Bellevue, Washington | Mar 10, 2011


    If only we always did due diligence. And while it may require asking some challenging questions of the people and the organizations who would ask for our support and services, in the long run it would save valuable time and energy.

    Pre-screening opportunities is simply a smart way of working. Having a rich full front end dialogue is always a good use of time, in my opinion.

    Spinning one's wheels never feels satisfying and can only be done for so long.

    I hope many people read this article and filter their future prospective opportunities through your four questions. And better still consult you if they can't coach themselves through them.

    Glad you posted this!


    Authentic Writing Provokes

  • Independent Financial Consultant 
Bellevue, Washington 
Scott Scholz
    Posted by Scott Scholz, Bellevue, Washington | Mar 10, 2011

    Great points. As much as answering the reasons why one might join a non-profit board, or embark on any venture for that matter, one should consider the reasons one might exit. Too much of the time, people are focused on the beginning and don't plan for the end. Life is a journey comprised of many smaller journeys. They're not all supposed to last a lifetime. Planning the exit while planning the entrance gives you clarity, focus, control, greater satisfaction, success and is practical for all facets of our lives. Keep 'em coming, Jane.

  • Not Profit Consultant 
Bellevue, Washington 
Jane Kuechle
    Posted by Jane Kuechle, Bellevue, Washington | Mar 10, 2011

    I'm so pleased that this article has been useful to all of you. Sometimes it helps to have someone else point out what we already know but just need the nudge to make it happen. Thanks for the feedback.

  • Seattle Feng Shui Environment Consultant, SoulCollageĀ® Facilitator 
Seattle, Washington 
Diane Kern
    Posted by Diane Kern, Seattle, Washington | Mar 11, 2011

    Jane a very good article asking good questions. It is an excellent idea to have an exit strategy as organizations change just as our needs change. Working with a non profit for the wrong reason serves neither them nor you. And of course this is good reasoning for all our relationships.