The Center for Association Resources


Is an association management firm focused on helping Non-Profit associations succeed in their mission.

Working with difficult people in non-profit associations

Another in a series of articles related to association management selected from our reading list by:
Robert O. Patterson, JD
CEO/ Principal
The Center for Association Resources, Inc.

Working with difficult people is more or less an unavoidable part of life in general. And this problem can present unique challenges in the business world. When it comes to the management of a business, there are bound to be difficult people at all steps during the process – Whether it is an angry, frustrated customer, or a ruthless, uncompromising board member. Difficult people are everywhere, and a successful leader should know how to work with them. The management of a nonprofit organization is certainly not exempt from the rule. Successfully running a nonprofit firm will include the unpleasant task of working with difficult people.

Perhaps you have a board member who makes a habit of being difficult. The first step to take in order to remedy the problem is to try to get to the source of the conflict. Why is the person being difficult; or, more accurately, why do you (and others) perceive them as being difficult? It is important as a manager or co-worker to put yourself in the person’s shoes. Are they being stubborn or strong-headed? Perhaps they simply feel that the job at hand is not being done properly, and are trying to get everyone else back on track. Are they being whiny or non-responsive? Perhaps they feel outnumbered, and are too reluctant to offer their own dissenting opinion when they feel that everyone else is against them. Understanding the difficult person’s viewpoint will help you to approach them without making them feel threatened or disliked.

If a difficult board member is posing too serious of a problem to the organization’s health, it may be time to develop a strategy to limit their impact or even remove them from the board. Check your firm’s bylaws for procedures regarding the removal of a board member; many bylaws will require a unanimous vote from the other board members. Whatever you do, do not violate your own organization’s bylaws, or you can be sure the offended person will pursue legal action. It is also an option to try to get the person to hand in their resignation.

Managers of nonprofit firms will likely not only have to work with difficult board members; they may also encounter difficult donors and volunteers. When dealing with a difficult donor, it is still important to try to approach the situation from their viewpoint, all while remembering your organization cannot function without the generosity of outside donors. The importance of trying not to trample on people’s egos should not be underestimated. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to certain aspects of a donor’s request for the use of the money if you feel they would compromise the vision of the organization. Try to make the difficult donor understand why you have a disagreement with them, while always remembering to speak in the positive. For instance: don’t negatively criticize the donor’s request, but instead talk positively about your organization’s goals, and explain why you think the donor’s goals might not be aligned properly with the organization’s.

Dealing with difficult volunteers is another problem that may arise. Again, it is always important to try to make sure the volunteer understands the company’s vision, and why their behavior may be compromising that vision. They would not be volunteering at your organization if they did not care about the work you do. If the situation cannot be resolved, it is always an option to politely tell the volunteer that they won’t be able to work with your organization in the future.

Filed under: Association Resources, Center for Association Resources, Leadership, Non-Profit, Planning, Strategic Planning, Strategy, The Center for Assocation Resources info, Training, , , , ,

July 2020

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