Nonprofit boards could do more, study says

Daring to Lead
Daring to Lead

While nonprofit executive directors give their boards high marks overall, they find board members lacking in critical areas of oversight, a new study says.

More than two in three of the more than 3,000 executive directors surveyed say they are at least somewhat satisfied with the job their board of directors is doing, says a brief based on Daring to Lead 2011, a study conducted by the Meyer Foundation and CompassPoint.

Nine in 10 say they can be honest with their boards, slightly more than half say their relationship with the board is “functional,” and three in four are confident a qualified successor to their board chair is already a member of the board.

But in addition to these generally positive findings, the study found cracks in the board-executive relationship.

Almost half of executives surveyed had not had a performance review within the past year and, of those who did have a review, fewer than a third found the experience somewhat useful or very useful.

Fewer than half believe their board provides enough support in the areas of policy and advocacy, supervision and guidance to the executive director, fundraising and technical management expertise.

And while almost three quarters of executives say their boards provide strong financial oversight, that oversight often involves simply approving budgets and reviewing audit results, but doesn’t involve a deep understanding of the organization’s business model required to ensure long-term financial sustainability.

Despite the lack of board participation in several areas, more than half of executives spend 10 hours or less on board-related activities each month, and more than a third say they need to spend more time on their boards.

Executive directors who spend more time working with their boards report satisfaction with their boards.

Among executives who spend 10 hours or less a month with their boards, only 17 percent report being very satisfied with board performance, while 23 percent of executives who spend more time with their boards report high satisfaction.

In light of these findings, the report suggests executives embrace their role in boosting board performance and spend more time working with their boards and identifying and nurturing new members.

Executive also should implement best practices to improve board performance, including creating job descriptions and statements of expectations for board members; recruiting members based on needed skill sets; requiring annual reviews of the executive director; and conducting trainings for boards on a regular basis.

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