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A Primer on Nonprofit Board Governance – 20 Questions

Questionnaire for Board Governance

Nonprofit boards are unique in the American organizational landscape. Although the organizations they oversee are formed as corporations, the board is often composed of men and women who may be committed to the mission but know little about the actual operations of the nonprofit. That sometimes leads trustees to step back from the kind of oversight they would exercise on a corporate board.

The opposite is also true. Because they are committed to the mission, and because they feel familiar with what the organization does (e.g., feed the homeless, attract audiences for performances or students for education), some trustees constantly tell the management how to do their work instead of focusing on funding, performing oversight, approving vision and strategy and monitoring progress and risks. They view the senior management group as “staff” rather than “executives.” Most important, at a time when there is an enormous focus on corporate governance processes in the business world, many nonprofit boards lag far behind in that respect.

I have attached a short quiz – 20 questions on governance processes that you can answer with a “yes” or “no” check mark in five minutes or less about any nonprofit boards on which you serve.

Print the questionnaire and check the boxes. If you have a significant number of “no’s,” consider contacting me at 212-346-1166 ( for a brief conversation about how your board can improve performance and results. I have spent 15 years in senior executive positions in higher education and served on a wide variety of nonprofit board, often as Chair or Vice Chair.


As always, I also welcome your comments and suggestions about the questionnaire.

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