Giving Compass’ Take:
• Amitabh Behar, writing for India Development Review, explores the gradual shift in nonprofit boards and what has emerged in the last 10 years.
• What are characteristics you would want to see from a nonprofit board? What changes help board members find innovative solutions?
• Read more about boards and governance.
“We need to remember this is not a corporate entity; this is a social action group with a commitment for social transformation and social justice. As long as the laws of the land are adhered to, we must flip the question of seeking accountability from the executive, and instead ask the team how can we empower and support them in their struggle to achieve the vision and mission of the organisation.”
These were the words of Vijay Tendulkar (regarded by many as one of the best playwrights in India) during a particularly difficult board meeting, where certain members were getting too involved in procedural and compliance-related nitpicking, losing sight of time and the relevance of this approach for a nonprofit organisation. His clarity on the primary role of the nonprofit board has stayed with me since.
This clarity was common wisdom just 10-15 years ago for the nonprofit sector. However, if you go to a nonprofit board room today, this understanding of ‘empowering and standing in solidarity with the team (executive)’ might be turned on its head, particularly in bigger, more ‘professionally’ run organisations. Today, board meetings are primarily geared towards compliance and accountability, backed by donors and consultancies. This is pushing more organisations away from a board focused on solidarity, to one focused on compliance and accountability.
This gradual but decisive trend has had far-reaching consequences on the character of civil society and has unfortunately also weakened our contributions to the fight for social justice and human dignity.
This shift in the conception of the board’s role is a result of a complex interplay of multiple factors, and cannot be attributed to just one phenomenon. However, if we simplify the history of this shift, two primary factors emerge:
- A misunderstood narrative of accountability
- A desire to become ‘professional’ and achieve scale
Read the full article about nonprofit boards by Amitabh Behar at India Development Review.
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