Portrait of Heather Johnson

by Heather Johnson

Partner at Han Group

Navigating the dynamics between nonprofit boards and management can be daunting. But mutual understanding and effective communication can propel your organization toward its goals.

In the nonprofit world, the synergy between an organization’s leaders and its board members forms the foundation for success. Collaboration, communication, and mutual respect are essential components for driving impactful change.

At Han Group, we have worked with all different types of nonprofits, from grassroots operations powered mainly by volunteers to large foundations led by seasoned staff. Throughout our engagements, we’ve encountered a spectrum of dynamics between nonprofit leaders and their boards. Some boards tend toward micromanagement, while others adopt a more hands-off approach. In every scenario, our role has been to facilitate understanding between both stakeholders, clarifying their respective roles in safeguarding the financial future of their organizations.

READ MORE: A nonprofit leader’s guide to reviewing 990s with your board

With that context, here are some insights and best practices tailored to both boards and management teams within nonprofit organizations.

Best Practices for Nonprofit Boards 

  • Understand your core responsibilities. Nonprofit boards bear the weighty responsibility of guiding the strategic direction and ensuring the sustainability of their organizations. They must set overarching goals, approve budgets, and monitor financial performance. Additionally, they play a crucial role in hiring and evaluating executive leadership, aligning their vision with the organization’s mission, and fostering a culture of accountability and transparency.
  • Uphold legal and fiduciary obligations. Boards must exercise due diligence in financial oversight, comply with regulatory requirements, and safeguard the organization’s assets. We often advise boards to consider including individuals with financial expertise to bolster their capacity in financial oversight and decision-making.
  • Cultivate effective governance. Effective board governance is essential for driving organizational success. Establish clear governance structures, define roles and responsibilities, and foster open communication channels among board members.
  • Embrace continuous learning and development. Professional development is integral to enhancing board effectiveness and adaptability in a dynamic environment. Boards should invest in ongoing education and training to deepen their understanding of governance principles, emerging trends, and financial best practices. We found this financial literacy resource from the National Council of Nonprofits.

Best Practices for Nonprofit Leadership

  • Facilitate transparent financial reporting. Management shoulders the responsibility of furnishing the board with timely and pertinent financial data, empowering informed decision-making and strategic planning. By delivering comprehensive financial reports and insights, the board can make sound judgments regarding resource allocation and investment.
  • Prioritize onboarding and financial literacy. At Han Group, we have helped clients onboard new board members by walking them through financial statements and showing them what to look out for when reviewing these documents. This type of training equips board members with the acumen necessary to understand budgetary allocations and align organizational goals with programmatic initiatives.
  • Manage board expectations with precision. Management should provide board members with pertinent metrics and insights, and address potential questions or concerns before they do. It helps to keep the communication channels open so they can build trust with the board. This will help create an environment where new ideas flourish.
  • Identify and address issues head-on. By openly discussing challenges, risks, and opportunities with the board, management enables the board to offer better strategic advice and assistance. Through transparency and accountability, management strengthens the organization’s core, ensuring it can adapt and thrive even through difficult times.

At Han Group we have seen these tactics work because they help each side empower the other. By following these guidelines for working together, nonprofit leaders and their board will cultivate a culture of innovation, resilience, and sustainable growth.



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