How Can Boards Better Measure Up to High Expectations?

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June 30, 2011; Source: Chronicle of Philanthropy | Nonprofit boards are underperforming, according to the recently released study, “Daring to Lead 2011: A National Study of Nonprofit Executive Leadership,” sponsored by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and the Meyer Foundation. That’s the perspective of over 3,000 nonprofit executive directors who participated in the national survey. Results are consistent with findings from two prior “Daring to Lead” studies conducted in 2001 and 2006. Furthermore, similar surveys of nonprofit board members themselves have yielded similar conclusions.

Just 20 percent of responding executive directors indicated high satisfaction with their boards’ overall performance as governing body. Though a majority felt positive about their partnership with the board chair, they rated the board’s overall level of engagement as moderate. For example, 45 percent of executive directors didn’t have a performance review last year: of those who did, two-thirds felt the evaluation wasn’t useful. Respondents gave highest marks to their boards in the area of financial oversight. They gave lowest marks in the area of policy/advocacy engagement.

Is this lackluster assessment a sign that nonprofit Board members are unwilling to commit, unable to perform, or unaware of how to productively participate? Many remedies proposed for underperforming boards focus on better board recruitment, orientation, ongoing training, and use of committees. These may be important, but the deep dissatisfaction suggests a systemic problem as well.

Given all the changes facing nonprofits—including more complex compliance and reporting requirements, market-driven business models, sustained reductions in core funding and demographic shifts– how well do we understand anymore how strong governing boards enhance nonprofit effectiveness? In this turbulent operating environment, how well do we know anymore how best to focus the limited time and energy of a volunteer board?

Buried in the “Daring to Lead” report is a relevant statistic. The report notes, “other studies have found that executives who spend 20% of their time on board-related activity have high rates of satisfaction with board performance.” Among “Daring to Lead” respondents, executives who spend more time on board-related matters are also more satisfied with board performance. Still, the largest group of respondents (39 percent) spends just 5-10 hours a month on board-related activity. That’s roughly 6 percent of their time at most.

If a more robust executive director/board working relationship correlates to better board performance, nonprofits and their funders should view time invested in cultivating this partnership as mission-critical. It’s not time wasted. It’s fundamental for organizational performance and sustainability in a complex world.—Kathi Jaworski

  • Shawn Paul

    Great article addressing the sometimes lackluster participation of Board of Directors. I would like to point out as well that the boards I have trained and worked with were willing to do what was expected of them, if they understood what that was. Many do not have a job description and even more have not been through a formal outside training that gives them a rund down of their responsibilities and liabilites. If nonprofits continue to recruit board members without being very clear about the expectations BEFORE they are voted on the Board, we will see little change in these numbers.

    I agree the relationship between Board and Executive Director is mission-critical! Well said! But I want to also point out that we at IAPND encourages executive directors to spend time making sure the board has all the training and tools it needs to succeed, rather than doing the Board’s work, which often happens.

    Thanks again for a great article. With all the new regulations affecting nonprofits, now more than ever Board’s need to understand their role inside and out.–Shawn (Marie) Paul, Author of Life in Motion, Founder & CEO of IAPND and The Break Away Group, LLC (

  • Brett Ridge

    Great article. Interesting though how the findings of the “Daring to Lead” study were similar to those from 5 years ago and ten years ago.

    If that is the case, something isn’t connecting? The idea that spending more time working with your Board will make them more effective is not new. So why aren’t more Executives doing it?

    I suppose there are many reasons that answer that question. But whatever they are, it seems the reasons are winning out.

    Brett Ridge
    Senior Solutions Manger; Nonprofits


    Excellent article and pinpointing a very common problem for non profit Associations. It is a vicious circle of time. With today’s world of internet, social media and email; granted the mechanism to get the word out on various Non Profit Assoc. is there but the man hours are compromised because people with good intentions are getting swamped in their employment and social life.

    Take the Condo Corporation world, there could be 3-5 Board of Directors who are in charge of over $1,000,000 plus operating budgets for the Corporation. They may meet once a month and many have no experience, credentials and/or understanding of even the Condo Act, Declarations, By-Laws and or reserve funds. Many depend only on recommendations of their Property Managers. Owners complain about rising maintenance fees and deteriorating condo buildings having special assessments. Interestingly many Owners don’t even attend their Annual General Meeting and few know anything about their own declaration or the operations of their condo.

    Condo Owners Association was founded to be the voice of Condo Owners to represent their interest while working with Government. (
    It is a Non Profit Association.

    In today’s Condo market; chances are you will own a Condo; a member of your family or a business assoc or friend. It could be an investment, a downsizing and/or vacation property. Condominium ownership is showing substantial growth across the globe yet there are so many variables that need to be addressed to ensure transparency and better condo corporation declarations, bylaws and infrastructures of the corporations. Condo Owners Association works with Government to recognize and implement beneficial changes to help reduce maintenance fees, reserve funds and monitor utility expenses, boards and operations.

    Condo Owners Need to known about COA
    Condo Owners Association

    Linda Pinizzotto
    Founder COA – Condo Owners Association