The Nonprofit Board As a Stereotype For Its Organization

The Nonprofit Board As a Stereotype For Its Organization

By: Eugene Fram

How stakeholders and potential donors view a nonprofit board can easily be used to stereotype the entire nonprofit, even if it is offering good service!    Following are some major differences between what might be called a “modern” board, one that has grown and has exited its start-up stage and a “conservative” board, one that has grown, but the board still operates as if it were a start-up stage. The latter format, in my opinion, is costly in terms of volunteer time and operating expenses.

MODERN:  The board:

  • has a clear definition between policy/strategy responsibilities and operational ones.
  • has a president/CEO has full operational responsibilities as defined by the board or the charter.
  • has five or fewer standing committees.
  • uses ad hoc committees or task forces to  study major challenges or changes.
  • chair and the president/CEO have a good working relationship.
  • has good transparent communications with the staff via the CEO.
  • assessment of the CEO & organization are viewed as rigorous but fair.
  • is concerned about leadership development for the board & staff.
  • is most effective for nonprofit organizations that have at least annual budgets of $ 1 million and staffs of about 15.

CLASSICAL: The board:

  • is deeply involved with operational issues, as needed during a start-up period.
  • operational head is an executive director who looks to the board for many material decisions, e.g., personnel conflicts, holiday calendars, pay check signatures.
  • has a wide variety of standing committees, e.g., personnel, building, safety,
  • standing committees meet frequently to review operational and policy decisions.
  • chair and executive director have a “parent child” relationship, e.g., ED asks chair about scheduling vacations.
  • and staff has frequent social and business contacts.
  • assessments usually center on making certain income and expenses are in line and use an internal board questionnaire for data on CEO performance.
  • is most effective during the startup stage.


If an organization is out of the start-up stage, offers quality services and wants to have a more positive stereotype image, the board needs to question whether its current model is operating effectively and efficiently.  

(For more information, see: Policy vs. Paper Clips, 3rd Ed. 2011, Available on







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