I was volunteering for a non-profit for three years until I was asked to join the board a few months ago. The Exec. Director and I work very well together. The board comprises of his parents and a sibling. All I generally get along with exception with the sibling. Mother of the ED have worked on personal projects together and those ended in disasters. Things fell apart after joining the board. The intense conflict and drama stressed me out to the point where the interactions with these people triggered anxiety attacks, loss of appetite, and cardiac symptoms. The conflicts triggered a cardiac event which required a hospital stay. I got into a heated e-mail exchange with the mother of the Exec Dir who sits on the board (I took her comments on my work too personally). My professional composure failed and I made a personal attack on her. Then notified the ED that I will be resigning. Since the ED is a close friend, I agreed to stay on long enough to get their new website redesigned.

Now one of the Board members is extremely angry at me and refuses to communicate with me. She tried to coerce an apology out of me when I was not ready to give an apology because I was still angry at her. I've made several attempts to rebuild bridges over the past weeks. But she won't return my calls. Instead it appears that she's using my friendship with the ED as a bargaining chip to getting what she wants. This as adversely affected my friendship. Given these tactics and her willingness to go the nuclear option, I fear that I will be sued. In an attempt to repair the relationship with that Board member, I left a rather humiliating apology on her voicemail where I expressed self-hatred. The relationship didn't improve but has escalated where she sends e-mails with an aggressive tone using the ED's e-mail account. This caused a severe strain on the relationship between my friend and myself.

I handed off my last deliverable last Thursday. Someone misplaced it and I was blamed for not meeting the deliverable date. It's supposed to be their problem because they're migrating the site off a server I run. As that Board member migrates the site to a new webhost and runs in to problems, I fear getting more demanding e-mails and calls. And a potential law suit.

I just want my piece of mind back and put this behind me. What should I do to handle this situation better? Should I hire a professional conflict mediation to help that Board member and myself address our conflicts in an attempt to mend fences? Should I stop responding to their calls and e-mails with risk of losing a good friendship? Should I be hiring a lawyer and channel communications between me and the other party?

  • It's a bit late to say this, but: When doing business with friends -- even if the business is a nonprofit -- remember that it is BUSINESS. Everything on paper, everything exactly as you would handle it with folks you don't trust as much... because otherwise, if someone starts presuming on the friendship (or starts thinking the friendship is interfering with the business) things rapidly turn ugly. I don't have any specific advice beyond remembering to treat it as business and accepting that the friendship may indeed have to suffer (at least until emotions settle down again).
    – keshlam
    Sep 7, 2014 at 5:12
  • Should I hire a lawyer or am I overreacting?
    – dperry1973
    Sep 7, 2014 at 5:50
  • 3
    Companies don't usually bring a law suit for someone delivering something late (even if that was what occurred). At most, they fire the person. You've already quit. I don't see a reason to either spend money, or throw more fuel on the fire. IF they bring suit, there'll be plenty of time to hire a lawyer. Meanwhile, I think my position would be "I'd be glad to talk to you as friends, I'd be glad to answer factual questions about where things were left to facilitate transferring my responsiblities to someone else, but I'm not going to waste time arguing or playing politics. That's why I quit."
    – keshlam
    Sep 7, 2014 at 14:06

4 Answers 4


My head spins from the complexity of your narrative - It's a volunteer job, right? This means you don't have to be there, right? You have two options:

  1. walk away from the snake pit and don't look back, or

  2. stick around and take a few more poisonous bites.

I suggest that you use what's left of your sanity and decides which option has the greatest pain minimization. When things get this twisted into unrecognizable shapes back at the non-profit, it might be a good time to look out for yourself. I believe your subtext is that you're trying to stay to get some good done, but it's clear that your continued presence at the non-profit is more of a distraction than a positive factor.

All the options you are putting forward presume an intent to continue fighting, but you probably need to step back and decide whether it's worth it to continue fighting. Wars that ain't worth winning are hardly worth fighting.

  • 2
    I'm not sure if it stopped being a volunteer job and became paid employment when the OP joined the board a few months ago. Would be good to have that clarified. Sep 8, 2014 at 0:48

This kind of triangulation is unfortunately fairly common in nonprofits, and in closely-held family operated businesses. You've been triangulated -- brought into the middle -- between ED and mom. That it's common doesn't make it any more fun.

I strongly suggest you get some distance from this situation. From what you say, you've made your last deliverable to these people. Now is the time to walk away from the battleground.

If you hope to understand a little better what's going on, you might try reading about a branch of psychology called "family systems theory." It's a little complex, but the gist of it is that "families" (be they small businesses, non-profits, congregations, or, well, families) sometimes close ranks to exclude a newcomer who offers change. The family system, completely unconsciously, puts its focus on a single person, and makes him or her carry all the symptoms of the whole family. You're that person. The jargon for your role here is "identified patient." It's a nasty place to be. You know that.

I'd say this family systems dealio was a bunch of woo-woo nonsense, but I've seen it happen five or six times. You're not alone in suffering from this.

The good news is this: They're not your family! You can get away from this mess and decompress.

I strongly suggest you ask your ED friend to refrain from unloading his troubles on you for the next couple of months so you can get your bearings.

As far as hiring a lawyer goes, don't do it unless you need to. It's costly, and you'll just have to go over the whole mess again. (Spend the money on a therapist instead if you need help.) If these people decide to sue you, they will then have to spend money with their lawyer and explain how they think you have wronged them. Let them do that, if they must. If you get served with a lawsuit, then hire a lawyer. Make sure to hire a callous *ssh*le for a lawyer, and then let her or him handle the case in hard-nosed fashion.

Don't give these clowns any more free rent in your heart and mind. Peace be with you.

  • 1
    The description of the tangled mess made me wonder if Sayre's law is as applicable to non-profits as it is to academic politics. Sep 8, 2014 at 0:49
  • @Carson63000 Thanks for the link. As a Columbia alumnus, I learned all about office politics and political back stabbing in grad school. I also became street-wise as NYC was one tough, mean mother of a metropolis back then, and I got a world class engineering education. I am one lucky dude, because I learned how to take care of myself in the office, on the job and in the streets :) Sep 8, 2014 at 3:39
  • +1 for keeping cool and not hiring a lawyer right away - Let the other side show their hand, assert their legal claim and take it from there. Also, having a lawyer on hand because one is worried about the possibility of being sued - that's an expensive security blanket. Sep 8, 2014 at 12:50

I just want my piece of mind back and put this behind me. What should I do to handle this situation better? Should I hire a professional conflict mediation to help that Board member and myself address our conflicts in an attempt to mend fences? Should I stop responding to their calls and e-mails with risk of losing a good friendship? Should I be hiring a lawyer and channel communications between me and the other party?

Wow, such drama! Conflict to the point of a cardiac episode clearly isn't a good thing.

If I understand correctly, you have resigned, but agreed to hang around and get a website going.

You indicated that this "has adversely affected my friendship". Your best bet now is to get the website done and wash your hands of this situation (and this friend's mother) as quickly as possible.

Ignore the phone calls and emails to the extent that they don't directly involve completing your website work. Meanwhile, document everything you have done, and everything you are doing.

While it seems unlikely, if you are correct that a lawsuit follows, then hire a good lawyer at that point, turn the documents over to her/him, and try to calm down. Get your piece of mind by putting the entire dramatic episode in your rear-view mirror.

In the future, keep business and friendships distinct. After you resign from a situation, don't stay in it by agreeing to do more work.

  • 95% Correct. The Exec Dir and I still maintain a strong friendship. He'll tell the rest of the Board and his staff "I have to see my therapist" and sneak out to decompress at my home office for a while. It's the ED's mom/Board Member that is the problematic relationship that is causing me the stress. BFF/ED can see through his mom's bullying and controlling tactics and has encouraged me to employ psychological ju-jitsu and has been providing emotional support. However the mother/son relationship is very like Kyle Broflovski/Shela Broflovski from South Park.
    – dperry1973
    Sep 7, 2014 at 16:09
  • Bad situation to get into the middle of, personal or business. Personally, I'd suggest that the BFF himself quit, if he and his mother can't play nicely together.
    – keshlam
    Sep 7, 2014 at 23:09

In general, I agree with the other answers here, however, they have not addressed some of the core legal questions here.

You have not indicated what jurisdiction this is taking place in so the specifics may be slightly different so do not take this as legal advice.

As a director you owe a fiduciary duty to the company. That means that you are obliged to put the company's interests first - not yours, not the exec director's, not the exec director's mother's, not even the shareholders'. It may be that your resignation is in the company's best interest but if so you should be very clear in your resignation of the reason's for it and your opinion of the capability of the board to manage the company subsequently.

You say that the company's web site is being migrated off your server - this is a potential conflict of interest, however, in the normal course of events this would not be a problem as I assume that it was disclosed (or so widely known that disclosure was not needed). However, this is not the normal course of events and you may be open to allegations of sabotage of the migration process - your best defense to that is to document everything you do and if you make a delivery have somebody sign for it.

Apart from that, I can see very little if anything that you could be sued over. Conflict is not actionable. Personal correspondence is not actionable (don't publish it whatever you do!). Telling someone to "get f**ked" is not actionable.

Once you resigned as a director, your fiduciary duties were at an end. Once you have completed your contract, your employee or supplier duties were at an end. Going forward, do not engage with the board as individuals - only deal with correspondence from "the company" and reply to "the company" temperately and with a Zen-like calmness - read what you write several times before sending and don't leave voice mails or texts.

As for your friendship with the ED - is it worth your health? If you live you can make new friends; if you die you will not have the ED as a friend anymore anyway.

  • This is a web server on a VPS that I've donated to the NPO. The donation was made before things went south.
    – dperry1973
    Sep 8, 2014 at 5:24

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