Nonprofit Board of Directors – Charities Biggest Pitfall is Maxie Carpenter’s take on how boards of directors systemically fail the charitable sector. Here’s what Maxie has to share:
I think I’m finally there. I think I’m finally at a point where I’m not sure Nonprofits need Boards of Directors anymore. Here’s what your contemporaries have to say:
“Effective governance by a board of trustees is a relatively rare and unnatural act. Trustees are often little more than high-powered, well intentioned people engaged in low-level activities.” ~Thomas Holland
“There is one thing all boards have in common…they do not function.” ~Peter Drucker
“Ninety-five percent (of boards) are not doing what they are legally, morally, and ethically supposed to do.” ~Harold Geneen
“Board members are usually intelligent and experienced persons as individuals. Yet boards, as groups, are mediocre. Boards tend to be, in fact, incompetent groups of competent individuals.” ~John Carver
“Boards have been largely irrelevant throughout most of the twentieth century.” ~James Gillies
You’d think that with all the environmental shifts happening right now (COVID-19 anyone?), some characteristics of Nonprofit Leadership would adapt. You’d think that Boards of Directors, consisting primarily of marketplace leaders, would think, act, or respond differently. You’d think that they’d be more willing to lower their RC Factor (resistance to change) for the good of the Nonprofit. Alas, not to be!
For the first time in my years of work, both on the front lines, and as an independent resource for the Nonprofit Sector, I’m actually seeing Executive Directors wanting to lead differently in order to grow, develop and sustain their organizations. Their primary obstacle is a Board of Directors that will not allow them to do so because of their continuing need to micro-manage rather than provide oversight through governance. If you look at all the Nonprofit Associations that offer resources relative to developing Boards (and for that matter Executive Directors), it’s the same recommendations they’ve been making since the earth cooled. In short, nothings changed.
If anyone’s kept up with any of my other platforms (YouTube, Podcast, Blog), I’ve been consistent with one specific theme. That theme is the unwillingness of current day leaders to release the potential in those under their supervision. The reasons vary from toxic ego, closet insecurity, fear of being usurped, fear of losing control, and all sorts of other reasons that only serve to limit the capacity of everyone in their charge. Nowhere (I work in the for-profit sector, as well) is this more apparent than in the Nonprofit Sector with Boards of Directors. It’s especially apparent with affiliates under the centralized control of a National Organization. They just won’t let go.
On this day, the anniversary of 9/11, coupled with the US recession in 2008-2010, and now with the Pandemic, the bar for leadership has been steadily raised. We’re seeing many leaders shrink from the level being required out of a fear of failure, or they simply don’t know what to do.
Elite leaders (those that stand out from the rest) understand one thing very clearly. They’re not in charge of anything. They’re only in charge of the those in their charge.
Elite leaders also understand that they’re going to get the same question every day in some shape, form, or fashion, no matter the situation. What’s next, why is it important, and how are we going to get it fixed? If they must wait on a Board of Directors to get some perspective and guidance, rather than a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, why do they need them?
They could fail towards success faster without them.
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I couldn’t agree more. The ineptness I have witnessed from nonprofit Boards is not only harmful to the organizations they represent, but more importantly to the clients those nonprofits serve. Group think is dangerous. It sets the nonprofit’s leadership at a disadvantage from the start. That’s a tough ditch to crawl out of.
The vast majority of board members for charitable nonprofits serve as volunteers without any compensation.
Thanks for the comment. 🙂 Yes they pretty much always have, which is why the magnitude of micro-management in the culture of Boards is so difficult for Executive Directors to overcome. They get paid but Board members don’t, yet because most Board members work in the marketplace (which is mostly command-and-control management), they bring that behavior to the Nonprofit environment.
Thanks for this very valuable article. It is unfortunate, but true. Having served as a non-profit Executive Director, the business of the non-profit is still principally a people-process-product business. Having that experience, any organization, profit or non-profit, is dependent on having the right people in positions of leadership. After 2020, all of what you’ve written is spot-on . Thanks for your timely observations.
Very true. My book has proven successful to solve this perennial conundrum, without the rigidity or hubris of other systems.
Jonathan D. Schick, President
GOAL Consulting Group
Author, The Nonprofit Secret: Six Principles of Successful Board/CEO Partnerships
Great Read as always Maxie.