Board Cafe: What 5,000 Board Café Readers Think About Boards

Board Cafe

What 5,000 Board Café Readers Think About Boards

By Jan Masaoka

With 45,000 subscribers, we were delighted that 5,271 of you responded to the survey . . . THANK YOU.

Some of what we learned, and what it made us think:

  • We're pretty lukewarm about how good a job nonprofit boards do. Forty-two percent of us think that "most boards do a good job," but 52% said "most boards do a so-so job." Makes us think: But does this say more about actual performance, or about expectations? See next finding.
  • Nonprofit board members felt the best about boards, closely followed by executive directors, giving "grades" of B to B-. Funders and consultants felt the worst, giving C grades. Makes us think: Maybe boards ARE doing a good job, but funders and consultants are convincing us we're not? Or are we unwittingly doing a weak job? Take this question to your board: how do we think we're doing, how does our ED think we're doing, and how do our funders and clients think we're doing?
  • What do we think our own boards do best? Readers answered: finance oversight, "making the big decisions," and advising the executive director. Reminder: let's not forget about being a safety net for the organization (but unless someone falls, who thinks about how good a job the safety net is doing?).
  • We also rank our own boards poorly on fundraising, with only 13% saying their boards were effective.

About Board Café readers and how you use the Board Cafe:

  • The overwhelming majority (80%) of Board Café readers are board members, of whom half have no paid connection to any nonprofit. This important finding will help us make sure the Board Café is responsive to our mainly volunteer subscribers!
  • Most of us are on only one board of directors, and 54% of us are board officers (we're a committed bunch). Fifteen hundred of us are on boards of all-volunteer organizations, and 600 of us are on boards of organizations with 50 or more employees. (Sample comment: "Try to think more about those of us where nobody is getting paid; there's paid staff in our national office but we're the ones who need more guidance and motivation.") Our organizations are in human services, health, education, animals, environment, performing arts, civil rights, and sports. Seven percent are with organizations in communities of color, and eight percent are women's organizations. In short: we're everywhere (including New Zealand, Nepal, UK, Bolivia, and a great many in Canada)!
  • A third (36%) of us are nonprofit executive directors. ("I write as an ED who has three very good board members who hold me accountable but don't let me get jerked around by the others." )
  • The Board Café gets put to good use: 55% of you visit the Board Café website monthly, and you pass each issue on to an average of 8 folks! ("We have a lot of arguments on our board, usually solved by bringing a Board Café issue to the next meeting.")
  • LOTS of "thumbs up" a few "thumbs down" comments: THANK YOU. In particular we get the message that you want the extremes: extremely practical or exceptionally thought-provoking.
  • And how do we take our coffee (this is the Board Café, after all!)? 28% black; 21% with cream, 20% with cream and sugar; 4% with sugar only, 24% claim not to drink coffee, and 3% checked "with cream, sugar, and a shot of a whisky." Loved this comment: "Coffee is so 20th Century. Tea is the new coffee."

Original publication date: 01/19/2007

© 2007 CompassPoint Nonprofit Services