11/23/2014 03:27 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2015

Once Again! What Does Nonprofit Board Oversight Mean?

I have a daily subscription to Google Alerts on "Nonprofit Management" and "Nonprofit Governance." Every week, several nonprofit case stories surface, related to inadequate oversight by nonprofit boards of directors. Many of the cases result in huge losses to the nonprofits. Following is my personal list of what I consider to be reasonable board oversight responsibilities, to attempt to help nonprofit boards of directors to avoid such losses.

Financial Related Actions

• At least half the board should be able to analyze the monthly or quarterly financial statements. Have voluntary information sessions available for those who do not have the skills.
• The board chair needs to be alert to "teachable moments" during board meetings. When a complex financial or board related legal issue arises, the chair needs to make certain that all have a basic understanding of what is involved. Otherwise some directors will sit quietly and nod their heads in agreement!
• Make certain that an external audit is conducted at least every two years, and the board is involved in the selection of the external auditor from a list of two or three suggested by board members and/or management.
• Be certain the organization has either a comprehensive assessment committee, finance committee, and/or audit committee. (Some states require nonprofits to have an audit committee once the organization has specific annual revenues.)
• Be alert to the development process for filing critical reports -Examples: IRS 990s, employee tax withholdings and both state and federal tax reports. With the recent expansion of the 990 Form, the board and/or audit committee needs to be involved with the development of the form and responding to the 28 new questions related to nonprofit governance.
• Make certain the board has developed or is developing a current strategic plan and that it becomes a useful document.
• Be especially alert when financial reports are frequently late or one or more directors perceive financial personnel are inadequately skilled.

Other Governance Actions

• Be alert to the system used for developing new programs. Be wary when new programs are described such as "mind-boggling." However, be certain that all reasonable opportunities are examined in a robust manner. Otherwise the organization may be a candidate for long-term disruption, like Eastman Kodak.
• Although engaging the CEO is the only hiring decision the board makes, it still has a responsibility to understand the strengths and weaknesses of promotable internal staff. This will require some board interactions with these staff persons
• Make certain that the organization has a knowledgeable CFO. No board member should have to worry about the safety of the organization's financial assets.
• Directors need to be ready to raise questions, even if they fear the questions may appear to be inadequate ones.
• Nonprofit operational transparency is critical in the 21st century. Malfeasance, in any format, must not be covered-up for the "sake of the organization's reputation."

"Trust But Overview & Verify."