The son of one of your nursing home clients, an elderly woman with dementia, is on your board. At board meetings he often raises issues around the care she is receiving such as how she is treated by staff, staff training, the cleanliness of the facilities, or the quality of the meals provided. The other family members around the table, which represent half your board, are usually quick to add their input based on their experience with their loved ones. Having the executive director’s ear at a board meeting apparently can be too good an opportunity to pass up.
These discussions, a deep dive into the day-to-day management of operations and individual client situations can take over a board meeting agenda. Executive directors may feel powerless to suggest out loud that this is not the forum for addressing these issues. Board members without such close connections to the day-to-day operations are also not inclined to steer the discussion away from such “real issues” back to broader business of governance.
Many types of non-profit agencies have family members of the clients they serve, or clients themselves, on their governing boards. These include childcare centres, nursing homes and the organizations I am more familiar with, residential and employment services for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Non-profits are often cautioned about appointing board members who are related to staff, are former staff or are closely related on the same board. It is hard though to find any advice on other situations involving family members on boards.