Six months into my job as executive director of the Playwrights Center, I took my board President out to breakfast. I needed more help. We were overwhelmed as an organization, facing significant financial issues and I did not feel that she and many others on the board had my back.

The meeting did not go well. I pleaded my case but she was honest with me. She told me that at this moment in her life, she did not feel she could step up her involvement for the organization. I went back to the office angry. In my mail was a resignation letter from the Vice President stating that “other commitments” has forced him to step down. The next day the board President’s resignation letter arrived.

Board Leadership, Board Development

I believe every leader within a nonprofit — board and staff — needs access to creative fuel. This is the substance that inspires dialogue, reflection, arouses a sense of commitment, and enables you to move forward. Creative fuel ignites the fission you need for momentum, change, and impact. It eventually accelerates efforts. The board leaders that resigned did not have any creative fuel to give to the organization. Others had stopped showing up long before, because they did not have any fuel to contribute. Though a very dark moment for the organization, it was also a blessing.

Those who remained cared about the organization. Our first meeting after the board leadership exodus was in a coffee shop with those left sitting around a small table. It was pitiful, but slowly the conversation began to flow. Ideas that were bottled up, started to release. We did not conquer the world, rally the troops, or make blood oaths at that meeting—all we did was make a list of what needed to get done. And then went out and got it done.

In those early days, it was stop start. Stop start. Succeed. Fail. Pick ourselves up again. Nothing romantic about it. It took a great deal of perseverance on everyone’s part. We got our financial house in order. We started recruiting new board members, who brought more creative fuel to our efforts. Our meetings became more effective, more got done.

Almost two years later, we were sitting in a board member’s living room on the top floor of an apartment building overlooking the city. Both board and staff were taking up every inch of couch, carpet, and chair. We were telling stories and laughing. There was joy in the room. Together, we celebrated our accomplishment and outlined an agenda for the next year. Looking out onto the city, I felt like we sat at the edge of possibility. Little did we know that in a few months we would cross over into a whole new world of opportunity.

At that meeting there was two new board members. One jumped right into the action, while the other sat back and had a look on her face that I had seen before—“Is this for me?” “What am I committing my time to?” “I’m not sure I should be here?” Within a week she called me and told me that this was not a good fit. I told her I appreciated the call and then wished her all the best.