August 20, 2023

Why Does Your Nonprofit Board Micromanage? Is it You?

Recently, as I waited with a nonprofit CEO of a social service agency for board members to join a virtual meeting, we quickly dove into the management details.

When the first board member arrived, I filled him in. As the second board member joined, the first summarized our discussion and gave his opinion on what the CEO should do.

Even across the video call, the CEO and I felt the direction of the conversation shift toward micromanagement.

I relearned a crucial lesson that day: it’s super easy for board members to start micromanaging, and sometimes leaders bring it on themselves.

Here’s are four, quick to implement tips–one for this very situation (#3) to keep your board focused on governance.

Quick Tips to Prevent Micromanagement

agenda icon1. Keep Management Issues Off the Agenda

  • Before Meetings: Review the agenda to ensure it focuses on strategic questions and policy decisions.
  • During Meetings: Avoid mentioning operational details that can lead to micromanagement.

Example: Andrew, a Board Rx  participant realized his team’s focus on details was because he asked for it. Moreover, committee chairs followed his lead and asked for input on minutia. By refining the agenda and working with the committee chairs during committee meetings, he steered the board towards governance.

Time (besides the meeting time): 10 minutes, pre agenda review.

light bulb2. Prime the Pump

  • Thinking Ahead: Identify a board meeting behavior you’d like more of in your board.
  • When It’s Your Turn to Speak: Praise that behavior.

Example: At a recent board meeting, I opened a topic by telling a story about a courageous staff member to encourage quiet board members to share their perspectives. The result? 100 percent participation in a discussion that had been lopsided at an earlier meeting.

Time: 1 to 3 minutes.

arrow icon3. Redirect Conversations

  • Pre-Planning: Anticipate potential distractions and prepare segues back to governance.
  • In the Moment: When discussions stray into management, guide them back to high-level topics.

Example: If the conversation veers into minutiae, say, “This feels like something the committee can decide. Let’s go back to the 30,000-foot level- policy level. Does this fit into our policy?” You know you’re succeeding when board members begin to say this or something similar.

During our Zoom call, I interrupted the conversation, “Listen I’m curious,” I said, “Would you both tell me why you got involved in this study group?

Time: 15 minutes for thoughtful pre-planning.

speech bubble4. Communicate Expectations

  • Sharing Concerns: Be explicit about what you need from the board when you bring up an issue.
  • Set Boundaries: Clarify that you’re seeking advice, not solutions, to keep discussions on track.

Example: Preface topics with, “I’m collecting ideas from the best minds I know. I want your thoughts before responding to this management decision.”

Time: 5 minutes to clarify your goals.

Your Challenge

You can lead your board to govern with small actions that create big rewards. Remember to check your agendas, prime the pump, redirect conversations, and communicate expectations. During your next meeting, use one of these tactics.

Additional Resources

Resources in this Series

Don’t miss theses posts:

Quiz: Is Your Board Micromanaging? Find Out Now!Engage with a self-assessment tool.

Why Does Your Nonprofit Board Micromanage? Is It You?– Understand the underlying causes of board micromanagement. (This post)

Lead More: How to Curb Your Board’s Micromanaging HabitGet strategic advice on redirecting board behavior.

How to Stop Your Board from Micromanaging: Practical StepsConcrete, actionable steps to prevent and stop board micromanagement. 

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