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The Impact of Consensus on Nonprofit Boards


Boards of nonprofit organizations are charged to work efficiently and effectively, as these groups may meet as few as two times per year. Usually, the purpose of these meetings is to discuss and vote on decisions that can have an impact on personnel and organization’s direction. When these decisions are brought to the table, does everyone on the board have the opportunity to voice their opinions, or are they more likely to vote in favor of what they believe the rest of the group wants? While this may seem like an efficient and positive way of running a meeting, taking healthy debate out of the equation can possibly lead to poor decision-making practices.

What might cause a board to be run in this way?

  • Influence: Influence on board members can come from those in power, such as a strong board chair or a board member with years of experience. Even though having strong individuals on the board is critical for proper decisions to be made, if small groups or individuals on the board are making decisions without the critical thought of everyone on the board, the organization might not have the impact of a multiple views before making a critical decision.
  • Trust & Cohesiveness: Although trust may be thought of as a key element in individual relationships, it is a critical component in a board setting. However, it might be possible to put too much trust in other members of the board to make a proper decision without making your viewpoint evident to others.
  • Unhealthy Agreement: While an agreement on a particular topic is what is ultimately hoped for during a board meeting or vote, unhealthy agreement can occur when conflict is completely removed and a sense of politeness is the norm. Having members of the board disagree and allowing for alternative opinions will give a well rounded understanding of the impact of a decision before a vote is made, as long as the debate is healthy. Without controlled conflict, a decision that might not be best for the nonprofit could be made.

Allowing healthy debate into the board room will help strengthen a nonprofit’s governance model. Each person on the board is nominated because of their individual expertise, as well as their shared passion for the organization. It is important that these individuals know that they all have a voice when they enter that board room.