March 8, 2022

5 CEO Blunders that Reduce Board Accountability

Are you looking for ways to make your board more accountable?

More than 50 percent of nonprofit CEOs are frustrated about their board’s accountability. Nonprofit board accountability and engagement includes ensuring that your nonprofit stewards the resources it receives and follows all ethical and legal requirements, and more. The MORE is where CEOs and executive directors get frustrated.

What Is Accountability?

Accountability is one of those words people toss about casually. Let’s not do that.

Let’s use Roger Connors and Tom Smith’s definition: “A personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results; to see it, own it, solve it and do it.”

Accountability involves choosing to lead, and you can choose to direct folks to greater responsibility at your organization. You can rise about the resistance, own, solve and do it.

When I partner with clients, we start with the executive director to ensure their behavior isn’t part of the problem and that they aren’t inadvertently getting in the way of members making choices to lead or dealing with circumstances. I’ve discovered five blunders that CEOs make when it comes to creating an accountable board.

Watch this 4-minute video to determine if you’re making any of these common blunders in board meetings or after to grow your board’s follow-through.

Chapters of 5 CEO Blunders that Reduce Boards Accountability

00:00 What is the most common CEO challenge regarding nonprofit boards?

00:30 Solving the Challenge

00:54 How You Ask for Help

01:08 Due Dates

01:27 You Want Me to Do What?

01:58 And, We’ll Get What?

02:53 Missing Pieces

03:52More Good Stuff

Transcript of 5 CEO Blunders that Reduce Boards Accountability

What do you think is the number one challenge that nonprofit CEOs report about their boards?

If you guess the accountability, you’re not alone; and if you face this challenge, you’re not alone.

It is the most common challenge. And it’s not surprising because working with people and accountability is a normal human challenge, but it’s especially challenging for the CEO and executive


They are, after all, your bosses.

So, how do you get around this challenge?

How do you help your board be more accountable?

When I work with nonprofits, one of the things we often do is change the ethos of the board and increase accountability. Still, even without working with me right now, one of the things you can do is look at changing your behavior.

I have five common ways that CEOs kind of make accountability an issue that they’re causing.

Blunder One

You vaguely ask for things. “Uh, would you please help us with this?”

No, no, no, no, no. “I don’t know what that means. I will interpret it my way. I helped you. I lifted a pencil.”

Second Challenge

Secondly, no specific deadline. A CEO recently emailed me on a mutual project. We’re working on it. I’m eager to get it done. And she asked me for something. I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do this,’ in my head, reading the email. And I wondered when she wanted it by, and it didn’t say. So I went on to the next email.

Number Three

It’s something that’s not in their wheelhouse. Can you even imagine them doing it? You want them to call people, and they’re really shy, or sometimes they don’t know how to do it. And, they’re not going to tell you. They’re not going to ask you. Sometimes there’s fear involved, but for whatever reason, the thing you ask is just not something they like, and they are on your board volunteering. And they would like to have a good time. You’re going to get more accountability if you think about their talents, gifts, and skills.

And a Fourth

When you make your ask for sketchy wins. This is something that it’s really hard to see. You get excited about a project,  and you don’t realize the big picture.

You’re asking your board members for a lot,  and the returns aren’t that good. Here’s a Giving Challenge example: A number of years ago, a nonprofit asked their board to come during high season for 15 minutes for a quick meeting to win a thousand-dollar prize. The board members could have written checks divided by however many there were. Or, one member could write you a check. “Let me have my lunch hour. I don’t want to drive across town for a 15-minute thing.

“If you need me and it’s meaningful and provides real wins, I’m all on board. But don’t ask me to do things  that only have very minimal return for the organization or me.”

You’ve got to ask for good value.


The final piece is missing tools. Your board member is ready to do it. They get down to the task, and it’s missing something. You can sometimes not avoid that because you can’t foresee everything. But many times, it’s something you could have provided or been available to answer during that time.

So, for instance, they need the information to do a report, but they don’t have it. They can’t get to the CFO. The CFO is on vacation, and that’s the end of the story.

So all of these accountability challenges are CEO, Executive director self-induced.

You can’t get rid of them all because you’re a human being. But you can help your board be more accountable by assisting them and not making these accountability errors.

You’re going to want to go ahead and check this link below because I included more links and videos, articles, et cetera, about working with your board and helping them to be

effective and your nonprofit CEO leadership to be even stronger than it is today.


Need more help with your board? Karen is available for a mini-consult or more. Click here to email or to set a time to chat.


Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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