February 8, 2021

How to Help Your Nonprofit Board Stay in the Governance Lane

Does your board meander out of its lane? Does it micromanage staff and dive into operations issues? Watch this video to guide your board to develop strategy, policies, and to govern.


00:00 Keeping your board in the right lane
00:10 Good nonprofit boards stick to their lane
00:23 Is your board busy micro-managing?
00:36 Guiding your board to govern
o1:05 Agenda check
01:20 Put a frame around it
01:48 Add lane markers
02:38 How to end your meetings

Does your nonprofit board stay in its lane, or does it meander over the highway? All are using all lanes and going everywhere at once. A good nonprofit board stays in its lane. And by that, I mean they stick with policy and governance and big issues, and they bring you information from the outside world and offer their perspective. If your board is getting involved in micromanaging your nonprofit, i.e., your work as a CEO, your board is not staying in this lane.

Let’s talk about how you can help your board stay in this lane and do the governance work that you so desperately need them to do because this is leading your nonprofit. This is what they only can do is have that outside viewpoint that they bring in and apply to your situation and help you set policies and strategies to win.

Now, you can’t be surprised that your board doesn’t know what lane is because they might never have been taught.

And so, your opportunity as the CEO is to help them understand that. And here are some ways you can do that.

Agenda Check

First of all, you’re going to look at your agenda, and you’re going to make sure that every time you put an agenda in front of this organization, you have checked it to make sure that it really is asking strategic questions, policy, questions, guidance, questions, if you need, or would like their advice on management, then you’re going to put a frame around it and say, hi, this is a question that I want to discuss with you. It really is a staff decision, but I would love your input. So your agenda should be double-checked to make sure it is asking for strategy and policy, and governance issues.

Many nonprofit CEOs get micromanaging because they forget this.

Put a Frame Around It

The second thing is to give them lane markers. I work with boards. And when I do, I often tell a story and bring three kinds of napkins.

And in the middle of the event, I’ll say, which of these napkins do you like best? And they look at me like I am from another planet. It’s kind of a fun moment. And then I explained that they’re going to be setting some strategies or go and policies. And before they do that, I wanted to give them inoculation and help them to know to remember that they want to stay away from napkin decisions and instead focus on policy. And because napkins and thinking about what color napkin is so easy and takes so little brain and it’s like, oh yeah, yeah. You know you want for hours, they forget. And they tend to go back into that. So give them some lane markers, give them a story, give them some reminders.

How to End Your Meetings

And finally, after the end of every meeting, just take one minute, take a breath, thank them for coming and say, let’s just stop here. How do we do? Do we stay with policy and strategy, and governance? Or did we meander into operations? How did we do tonight? Let’s rank ourselves. So I’ve asked for their evaluation. If you do this consistently and notice and think about it, your board will begin to understand what their role is, and you will have a governance board that stays in its lane. So I’m Karen Eber Davis. There’s more in the links below and on my website.

For More on Board Effectiveness:

5 Ways to Turn Off Your Nonprofit Board Members

Guilty As Charged: Prove Your Board Supports Your Organization

How to Help Your Board to Take Smart Risks

Create the Board of Your Dreams

Board Rx

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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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