Ep 179: Why is My Board SO Dysfunctional? (with Rob Acton)

by Joan Garry

Board dysfunction driving you bonkers? Join Rob Acton and me as we unravel the causes and offer practical solutions to get your nonprofit board of directors back on track!


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Does your nonprofit board of directors feel like a tangled mess? Let’s untangle that big ol’ knot together!

I can’t stress this enough: Board service is REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT, and it’s so crucial to get it right. With more high functioning boards of directors, the nonprofit sector would be stronger, and organizations would be even more impactful. That’s why I’m thrilled to have Rob Acton, a leading expert on nonprofit boards, as my guest in this episode.

Rob’s firm, Cause Strategy Partners, envisions a world where business and community leaders find purpose by lending their skills and passions to high impact, value-aligned nonprofits. He matches business leaders with boards and trains them, leveling up both the nonprofit’s work and the business leader’s leadership skills and job satisfaction. Everyone wins, especially the nonprofit!

In this episode, Rob and I tackle the question we’re asked more than any other: “Why is my nonprofit board of directors SO dysfunctional?

We’ll clarify what “dysfunctional” and “disengaged” really mean, explore different types of dysfunctional boards, and diagnose the root causes of board dysfunction. And if you’re a nonprofit E.D. or CEO, brace yourself for some truth-telling—the road to dysfunction runs both ways.

Rob Acton, J.D., is the CEO and Founder of Cause Strategy Partners and has nearly three decades of experience founding, leading, and scaling social good organizations as both a nonprofit chief executive and board leader. He’s the perfect person to help us dissect this problem and offer some solutions. And guess what? The only side effect of our ‘prescription’ is a more engaged and functional board. Ready to dive in? Me too!

Tune in to learn:

  • What does a dysfunctional nonprofit board of directors look like? (11:58)
  • What are the common types of dysfunctional boards? (13:56)
  • What actionable steps can you take to improve board functionality? (19:03)
  • How do you diagnose the root cause of board dysfunction? (27:30)
  • What role does the nonprofit E.D. or CEO play in board dysfunction? (42:02)


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About Rob Acton

Rob Acton, J.D. is the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Cause Strategy Partners. To date, the organization has placed, trained, and supported thousands of professionals in the United States and the United Kingdom for nonprofit board service through corporate partnerships with over 40 Fortune 500 companies and global professional services firms including JPMorgan Chase, PwC, Google, Adobe, NBCUniversal, LinkedIn, BlackRock, Comcast, Credit Suisse, Burt’s Bees, and United Airlines. The firm’s client list includes a number of private foundations, as well, including The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, The New York Community Trust, The Greater Houston Community Foundation, The Heckscher Foundation for Children, and The Joyce Foundation, to name a few.

Rob has nearly three decades of experience founding, leading, and scaling social good organizations as both a nonprofit chief executive and board leader. He served for 11 years as Executive Director of two nonprofit organizations: Taproot Foundation in New York City and Cabrini Green Legal Aid in Chicago. Under Rob’s leadership, CGLA received the prestigious Alford-Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence.

Rob is a recognized expert on good governance and nonprofit leadership, training thousands of executives and employees from Fortune 500 companies and professionals services firm each year. He has served on numerous Boards of Directors, Advisory Boards and Governmental Commissions. Rob currently serves as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of Broadway Inspirational Voices and as a member of the Board of Directors of Nonprofit New York. He serves on the Advisory Boards of Cabrini Green Legal Aid and Parkes Philanthropy.

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