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Confucius once said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” 

The meaning is that we need to know what we don’t know. As a board member, it is okay to not know everything but success lies in always asking questions in order to exercise the fiduciary duty that is bestowed upon you. 

These examples are real-life questions that were asked by board members.

  1. Why do you reference state law when you talk about us; aren’t we just an association?
  2. Is 35 percent market share satisfactory; it was 60 percent ten years ago but things have changed?
  3. We thought an amount in savings equal to two months of the budget would be plenty.
  4. You refer to antitrust but we doubt anybody talks about prices, should we adopt an avoidance measure? 
  5. Our executive is advancing her education, soon to be a PhD; we’re not worried she’ll leave – she’s fortunate to work for us. 
  6. We have some of the policies you talk about, but we’ve never gathered them in one place for the board to read.
  7. We hold two conferences a year because the bylaws say we must. Hardly anybody comes and it looks like we are losing money — but the bylaws mandate.
  8. A majority of our board members are selected by geography; it is harder and harder to find anybody willing to serve.
  9. We don’t need to pay an attorney to review our outdated bylaws when a committee can do it for free.
  10. Do you think board orientation is important, nobody has time and we did it four years ago? 
  11. Committees? We have some but getting members is hard so most are just one or two member committees. 
  12. We did a strategic plan. Where is it I wonder?
  13. Based on our board, I don’t see a need for directors and officers insurance.
  14. We meet every month – we must because of our bylaws.
  15. Do you really think the internet competes with the association? 
  16. As a director I know what needs to be done, but don’t ask me to volunteer. 
  17. We always have a strategic discussion at the end of our meeting agenda, but since it’s last we seldom get to it.
  18. Why do we have to look at these financials? Aren’t we doing well enough to skip the reports? 

These are valid questions and statements. For each there is a responsibility to pursue understanding and action. “Business as usual,” is not acceptable. 

For each statement it is appropriate to ask, “Why?” The answer should improve understanding. Asking why is challenging the status quo. 

There is a quote by Michael Marquardt that says, “Questions wake people up. They prompt new ideas. They show people new place, new ways of doing things.” 

Directors have a duty to ask why when statements like these are made, with an intent to make course corrections. 

#   #   #Note:  Bob Harris, CAE, provides free governance tips and templates at www.nonprofitcenter.com.  Bill Pawlucy, CAE, provides tips and tools atwww.AssociationOptions.com.

William Pawlucy
William Pawlucy
Bill Pawlucy, MPA, CAE, IOM, is founder of Association Options, Inc. a company that focuses on practical strategic planning (corporate and nonprofit), management assessments, Baldrige Award process implementation, AMC search and evaluation, facilitation, and governance modeling. He is also the executive director of the International Association of Interviewers and is an appointee to the U.S. Department of Commerce Board of Examiners for the Baldrige Presidential Award.