Nonprofit Leaders Give Their Boards a B-minus Grade

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Board governance

November 3, 2014;Associations Now

This week, BoardSource released a preview of findings from its latest national survey of nonprofit leaders, a research project that dates back to 1994. The survey initiative, just rebranded as Leading with Intent and formerly known as the Nonprofit Governance Index, gathers information from both executive directors and board chairs on trends in board composition, policies and practices. More than 1,000 nonprofit leaders participated in the latest survey, and overall they gave nonprofit boards an average grade of B-.

Among the areas where boards excelled were those relating to mission, financial oversight, CEO support, and legal and ethical oversight. Boards were found to struggle with community relations, board diversity, and fundraising.

Stated another—and perhaps more troubling—way, “The findings reveal that boards are generally better at technical tasks, such as financial oversight and compliance, than they are at adaptive work related to strategy and community outreach.” While those technical tasks clearly matter, the adaptive work is more critical than ever, and “leading with intent” requires a level of board engagement that goes far beyond oversight.




The preview of the survey results features these headlines, each of which is supported with preliminary data:

  • Finding financial stability amidst constant change requires strategic leadership.
  • Board members need to step up and speak out more.
  • Board diversity is not a numbers game. It’s the people who count.
  • Best-in-class boards do their homework on culture and dynamics.

Full findings from the survey will be released in waves beginning later this year, and NPQ will keep an eye on the in-depth analyses and their implications for the sector.—Eileen Cunniffe