Disagreeing with management decisions

Most of the time, nonprofit boards work through consensus. But what if you think a serious mistake is being made? Sometimes knowing what to do in advance if such a situation arises can help you understand the situation more clearly as it unfolds:

Have you ever been in a situation where the board has made a decision that you think is very wrong and will have severe negative consequences for the organization? Or where you think an important decision has been railroaded through?

As a board member myself and something of a contrarian, I've found myself in these circumstances from time to time over the years. For example, on the board of an organization with a sizable financial deficit, I found myself and one other board member losing a seventeen-to-two vote to take funds from the organization's endowment for current operating expenses. As a member of CompassPoint's consulting group for many years, I saw more serious cases, too, such as ones where board members suspected illegal activity or a takeover of the organization by a few very aggressive (and often new) board members.

It's important to remember that reasonable people can disagree in good faith on important issues. The following situations may give you some food for thought if a case that goes beyond reasonable disagreement were to arise for you.

Question: The board I'm on is about to make a bad decision. Although the last two years have been very tight financially, they refuse to make any cuts to the expenses. But they don't want to do anything different in fundraising either! If we have another bad year, I'm afraid we won't be able to pay our bills.

Answer: Call the board chair and express your concerns. But if you truly expect that the decision will go another way, write a letter to the board that explains your reasons for voting against the budget that has been proposed. Bring this letter to the meeting at which the vote will be taken and ask to read your letter aloud and have it entered into the official minutes. You may be outvoted, but you will have shown how seriously you take the matter. Your reasoning is in the permanent record, and those who did not attend the board meeting will be able to understand your point of view.

Many years from now, someone reading the minutes may also find your comments important and informative.


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