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How do we protect organization from bullying founder?

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How do we protect organization from bullying founder?

What can be done when a founding member of a nonprofit corporation repeatedly has bullied others?  The consensus is that the founder is disliked by the community.  The nonprofit is very young and reliant on membership, but some of the people we hoped would join refuse to do so as long as this founder is involved in any way! Is there a way to remove an unwanted founding member permanently?

This depends entirely on your bylaws.  I assume that you have several founders since you talk about one of them.  If the founders have protected themselves, as we often suggest, by providing that they can never be removed as members or directors, you may be unable to remove the bully without his/her consent.  (See Ready Reference Page: “Sole Member Bylaws Can Protect Founder of Nonprofit”) More likely, if there is no such protection, you would be able to remove the person as either a director or a member, or both, if you follow the proper procedures and have the votes.  Before you get to that extreme, you may want to talk to this person and explain how his/her conduct is hurting the organization.  If that doesn’t effect a change — and I would not count on its working — you are left with counting the votes, if that is an option. 

A removal from membership would not be permanent, but that would not be necessary if you have an admissions process where applicants have to be approved for admission (or readmission).   You should be sure that your process does not allow automatic admission merely upon submission of an application or payment of dues.  We advocate an approval process that allows you to keep control of the membership and avoid a take-over by hostile elements.  (See Ready Reference Page:  “Bylaws Function as ‘Constitution’ of Nonprofit Corporations”)

Tuesday, November 5, 2019


The organization may have a bigger problem than just the governance issue. If this individual is bullying employees or vendors, the organization may be required to take steps to stop the behavior or face possible legal liability. In some locations, the definitions of harassment and hostile working enviornment now encompass more than just the EEOC language. Of course, if the bullying is focused on those in a protected category, then EEOC involvement is possible as well.

After serving in many roles throughout my 40+ years in nonprofit service, I once again have to say that a nonprofit's purpose is not to protect any individual but to serve the community. I would never assist in developing bylaws that protect any one person- only to protect the nonprofit itself. This is a perfect example of one of the reasons why.

Thank you for addressing the issue of bullying by nonprofit founders. I have seen and and experienced it in my current role as library director. It is unfortunate when a group sits by and supports the bully mentality. Ultimately it leads to poor decision making, discord and the death of the nonprofit.

I agree with Pam Fulk, and this is the one area where I've always disagreed with Don Kramer, for the reason she stated.

I recognize the validity of this point of view and thank you and Pam for not calling me un-American for mine, as some of my critics have done.  But in my experience, I have seen more organizations die because a group of less involved and more self-interested directors has fired the founder and lost the vision and energy that primarily built the program than die because a founder ran it into the ground.through bad behavior.  When given the choice, I would rather protect the energy and the vision than protect the right of the board to remove a bad actor.   I have seen a lot more with energy and vision than those who turn out to be bad actors.  --Don Kramer 

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