Real responses to real-life questionsNonprofit experts Gary G. Godsey, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, and Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, MissionBox co-founder and CEO, have teamed up to create MissionBox DoubleTake — a column that offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector. The opinions offered here are based on the authors' personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.
Do nonprofit board meetings and alcohol consumption make for a good mix?
As a proud father of an adopted son, I was recently recruited by my city's largest nonprofit adoption agency to join the board. I knew the agency well and I gladly accepted the position.
When I arrived in the conference room for my first monthly board meeting, I was completely taken aback to see wine bottles on the catering table, with early arrivals already on their second glass! Alcohol at a board meeting?
I understand that when I signed on to this nonprofit's board, I assumed a serious level of fiduciary and legal responsibility. What would be the public perception if they became aware that we are drinking alcohol while making important decisions regarding the well-being of at-risk children?
As a newcomer, I didn't want to raise the issue at that first meeting and be branded as a troublemaker. Instead, I phoned a few of my fellow board members the next day and asked their opinions about this scenario. Incredibly, every one of the four people I talked to thought it was a fun way to attend what can sometimes be boring meetings.
I'm seriously considering quitting the board after attending only one meeting! What are your thoughts on how I should handle this uncomfortable situation?
Gary says ...
Don’t quit just yet! Clearly, alcohol and board business don't mix. Perhaps you could suggest to the board president and the executive director that if they are set on having alcoholic refreshments, it should be limited to being served after the business of the organization is completed.
If the meetings are boring, then that’s another matter totally. Working with the board and staff leadership to address these kinds of matters in a straightforward way is well within your purview as a conscientious board member who is trying to do the right thing.
I have worked with many people who thought they could "handle their liquor". In reality, they become intoxicated after one or two drinks. Handling the business of the organization is best done sober. You are taking the proper stance. Just be sure your delivery isn’t accusatory. Be sure to remain proactive and positive.
Kathryn says ...
I have been on several boards during my career and, now that I think about it, many served wine and beer during board meetings, especially for after-work hours board meetings.
Considering that consuming more than one alcoholic beverage an hour can put most of us over the legal limit for driving, you have a very good point. If I cannot safely drive, I’m probably not making the best policy decisions.
If the social time is important to board members, perhaps instead of quitting you could suggest to the board that snacks and wine are provided AFTER the meeting. Be positive about this suggestion and praise the board for their good work. Perhaps offer to personally sponsor one of the after-hours get-togethers or host one at your home. Just let them know your stance is one of commitment to your nonprofit’s welfare and standing in the community, and not coming from any personal bias you may or may not have regarding alcohol use in general.