Problem Boards or Board Problem?
In recent years, there has been a steady growth of training programs, consulting practices, academic research and guidebooks aimed at improving the performance of nonprofit boards. Yet, still, there is a widespread sense that underperforming boards are the norm and not the exception. The authors list three board-performance problems as the most prevalent. First, dysfunctional group dynamics — rivalries, domination of the many by the few, and so forth — impede collective deliberation and decision-making. Second, too many board members are disengaged and don't know what's going on in their organization. Third, and perhaps most important, board members are often uncertain of their roles and responsibilities. Board members' five main functions should be to set the organization's mission and overall strategy, and modify both as needed; monitor management and hold it accountable for performance; choose, support, evaluate and, if necessary, replace the executive director or CEO; develop and conserve the organization's resources; and, finally, advocate for the organization and build support in the broader community.

However, there looms another and more fundamental problem: one of purpose. The problem of purpose can be approached in two ways. “We can attempt to expose the board as an irrelevant institution constructed around a set of hollow roles and responsibilities," the authors write. "Or, as we prefer, we can ask whether the purposes now ascribed to boards might be necessary, but insufficient, to sustain engaged and effective service by nonprofit board members." Instead of narrowing our sense of the board's work, attempts should be made to broaden it. The biggest question that should be asked is: "How can we make board work more meaningful for board members and more consequential for their organizations?" In the end, a new sense of the problem of purpose may be more useful than more solutions to the problem of performance. After all, the right solution to the wrong problem rarely works.
Nonprofit Quarterly (05/08/17) Ryan, William P.; Chait, Richard P.; Taylor, Barbara E.
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