Management Knows All: What’s A Nonprofit Director To Do?

Management Knows All: What’s A Nonprofit Director To Do?

Your nonprofit board has a management ‘dream team” in place. The team collective has superior knowledge and in-depth understandings of internal processes and issues. Without attempting to micromanage the nonprofit, what role should a director play … assuming h/she serves on the board for a purpose.

Nonprofit boards provide critical policy compliance & financial overviews of organizational issues and actions. Regardless of the board’s overview actions and perceived excellence of management personnel, board members also must be poised and positioned to:*

Confirm or question management’s judgment calls. Management’s plans or decisions often require significant judgment calls. Rather than accepting these at face value, the board should review of them fully. In cases where there is a major difference of opinion, the board has an obligation to respectfully question and discuss these differences. If management’s arguments are not convincing, the board has an obligation to reject them.
Thoroughly review troubling patterns and assumptions.
Troubling patterns or assumptions are like leaking tires. They suddenly go flat. For example, Eastman Kodak declined, in part, because it assumed third world countries would first buy film cameras, before moving on to digital photography. Kodak’s board should have more rigorously questioned this assumption.
Look behind the data.
This is the old question of assessing the difference between symptoms and root causes. Since long-term outcomes for nonprofit organizations are difficult to assess, symptoms often can be confused with root causes. For example, a nonprofit day-care center may see its registration declining and assume it is due to increased for-profit competition. In reality, the root cause may be other reasons, such as a decline in the quality of the organization’s program.
Use generative thinking.
Do not hesitate to rise the “what if” questions. They will spur management’s thinking about new opportunities and strategic changes. According to BoardSource, nonprofit boards often figuratively count paper clips instead of focusing on policy and strategy.** For example, one nonprofit family center built a new facility based on current demand at the time, without perceiving the obvious growing need for a day-care center to assist the growing proportion of working women.
Allow time at board meetings for the above discussions.
Crowded meeting agendas discourage the challenging and questioning of ideas. Give authority to the board president to use whatever means necessary to bring full and open discussion within the parameters of the scheduled meeting time.

*Source for some topics: “NACD Board Vision – Asymmetrical Information,” 3/28/2013.
**For more information, see:


  1. Perhaps you should underline, “respectfully question and discuss.” Board members operating on assumptions or expecting rapid explanations for complex decisions are doing a disservice to the organization they serve. It takes all members actively participating, not allowing a bully board member or one that has invaded the staff to force their agenda.


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