David Malone (not his real name) just quit the board of a start-up nonprofit. When he first signed on, Malone thought that he was joining “an organization of peers with deep expertise.” He also understood that the board’s sole requirement was to attend six meetings per year.

At his first board meeting, Malone volunteered for a project that drew on his extensive finance experience. “In my mind, I was co-leading the project,” he says. “But in the executive director’s mind, she was leading the...

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