Are You Making These Non-profit Board Governance Mistakes?

As they deal with the month-to-month issues of running an association or non-profit organization, many boards fail to pay enough attention to one of the most important aspects of governance: their own makeup and procedures.

Your association can benefit dramatically when you take an unsparing look at how your board operates and relates to staff and each other. Let’s review a few common mistakes, and how to avoid or correct them.

Lack of Self-Assessment

We touched on this in our introduction: A board that says, “steady as she goes” and never looks at their own composition and practices is an ineffective board. As times change, so will your association’s missions, goals and staff; your board should evaluate themselves in light of them.

At an absolute minimum, boards should conduct an annual SWOT analysis—Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats—focused on their own effectiveness. They should also evaluate current policies and practices on a regular basis, assessing how well the board is following them and if changes are needed to make them more effective.

Lack of Diversity

Boards that draw from a wider demographic pool (and from more diverse career skillsets) tend to recruit more easily and make better decisions. However, surveys have found that only 22% of boards included people of color in 2021, and only 38% of board members felt that their boards represented the communities they serve.

For a full review of key board diversity practices, we recommend reading our full article on the subject. But the best place to begin is with your agenda: Introduce an ongoing agenda item regarding diversity and assess your current situation and how you want the board to look in the future. When recruiting, create diversity by looking for talent in new places, rather than looking for new types of people. If you broaden your search as much as possible, both talent and diversity will naturally follow.

Micromanaging Staff or Volunteers

Governing boards do their best work at the “30,000-foot level.” But more than that, you’ve recruited staff that is passionate about your mission and can handle day-to-day operations. Any unnecessary involvement in their work is simply a waste of the board’s valuable time. However, board members by their nature are highly experienced, capable, and committed to the association’s mission, and may stray into micromanaging operations.

Review what agenda items the board has dealt with in recent months (and communications between board and staff) to look for practices that stray into micromanagement. One way to avoid micromanagement in future agenda items is to simply ask, “Is this an issue that cannot be resolved properly without board input?” If the answer is “No,” it shouldn’t be on your radar.

Undue Deference to Staff or Others

Some boards have the opposite problem, becoming a rubber stamp for an executive director. Too much deference to a non-profit’s founder can also cause the board to fail to adapt to changing times or counter mistaken but well-intentioned decisions on the founder’s part. Lastly, boards which use an executive committee to oversee operations can find themselves deferring to them even on big picture items.

To avoid these problems, ensure it is clear that no one is beyond oversight or constructive criticism, and draw bright lines denoting the boundaries between staff/executive committee responsibilities and those of the board.

Bringing Help on Board by Working with an AMC

Concerned you’re making these mistakes? An Association Management Company, or AMC, can help you run a better board. At V2, we’ve provided full service and outsourced services for national associations for many years and can help your board thrive. Get in touch with us today, and let’s see how we can improve your association together.