When Should a Board Become Tactical?

Of all the issues that seem to divide Board and Staff of nonprofits is the question of what, really, are the board’s roles and responsibilities. They are legion and yet, you could define it with two words:

  • Oversight
  • Supporter

The board’s main roles are to ensure that the programs, policies and procedures of the organization are being run legally, effectively and efficiently. This is a strategic role—that is looking at the overarching issues; the big picture. I often put it this way: The board should absolutely look at how much the organization is spending for say office supplies relative to what it has been spending and what they are doing. The board absolutely should not worry about where the organization is buying those supplies—that is an administrative function. Inherent in this is the belief that the board should not involve itself with the day-to-day operations; the tactics of how the strategy is implemented.

In the supporter role, the board’s job is to ensure that the organization has the wherewithal—financial and otherwise-- to accomplish what it needs to accomplish. That means that the board must be involved in developing a budget and in helping to fulfill revenue needs. But again, this should be at the top level. So yes, the board should be involved with helping to raise funds—and no, the board should not be involved in wordsmithing collateral materials, grant proposals, or annuals appeals. They should be focused on the big picture—the major gifts and meeting one on one with potential major supporters—not with whether we should or should not do an ask three times in the annual appeal.

All that said, there are times when the board has to role up its collective sleeves and take charge. When and how the board should do that takes a lot of forethought and even more commitment.

So when should the board become tactical?

  1. On specific things when the ED asks the board to take a very active role. An example might be a program review when there are board members with special expertise or helping the ED to chose high-level staff by serving on a search committee.
  2. When the executive director leaves (either by choice or because he or she was asked to leave) before a new ED—interim, acting or permanent takes the reins.

Until then, the board should stay strategic, let the ED do his or her job.

And if the ED is not doing that job? Remember the role of oversight? Sometimes called the governance role, a big part of that job is to hire, nurture, and sometimes to fire the CEO.

So the other time the Board should get tactical? See #2!


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and build stronger boards. Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com or email Janet directly at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com