The Board Police

Via Non-Profit Law blog, Kevin Monroe of X Factor Consulting made a tongue in cheek post about crimes that the non-profit Board Police special investigation unit should be looking into. Among them are:

Impersonating a board officer. In many meetings, you may have difficulty spotting the board officers. They may not actually be the one running the board meeting…There are also reports of some organizations in which the officers have not officially been notified that they are board officers. They were absent at the meeting when elections were held and consequently unable to object to their election.


Misappropriation of focus – We know you’re familiar with misappropriation of funds — which itself is a serious crime. However, misappropriation of focus is also serious, but often undetected. This occurs when boards misunderstand their duty as directors and rather than focus on policy and strategy become obsessive about the operations of the organization. If you see repeated efforts to micromanage the staff, you’re probably observing a misappropriation of focus in action.

Conspiracy – … This often occurs before or after the actual board meetings to ensure a select group of board members always get their way on how they “run” the organization. You’ll know you’re in when you get invited to the “special meeting” of the select board members.

Obstruction of governance
– any act or action that distracts the board from having substantive discussions or decisions about important issues or policies to move the organization forward in a strategic manner. This could include rehashing the past, or debating what color to paint the lobby, but they are all ploys to prevent real governance from occurring.

Take a look at the whole post, framing the problem as something to be handled by the Board Police brings a humor to a somewhat serious subject.

Except, the Board Police are pretty much a real organization according to one of Monroe’s commenters.

This past Monday, Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission (ACNC) started operations.

One of their purposes is to provide advice and assistance to non-profit organizations, including ”

Reforms to remove duplication and streamline reporting and other regulatory obligations will make it easier for NFPs to go about their core business. They will allow donors and the general community greater access to information about charities, the type of work they do and the effect of their work.”

But the ACNC will also have enforcement powers to ensure compliance:

These powers aim to protect the reputation of charities doing the right thing so they are not tainted by the minority who are trying to avoid their obligations. Sanctions will only be used in the rare circumstances where charities deliberately do the wrong thing, do not respond to education or fail to take the opportunity to fix the problem.

In this case the ACNC will have the ability to take action like issue warnings or, in more extreme cases, issue directions or revoke a charity’s ACNC registration. Without the ability to issue serious sanctions if needed, the ACNC can’t effectively protect the vast majority of the sector or the general community.

According to the ACNC website, as of late August Parliament hadn’t decided on those powers. The commenter, Melaine, on the X Factor Consulting blog wrote, “NFP voluntary Directors will have duties and face penalties that exceed those of the biggest commercial boards. (Bad) Makes it even harder to recruit.”

Perhaps some of my Australian readers can provide more comment and context? (I’m looking your way Sydney Arts Management Advisory Group)

Would an organization like this be useful in the United States? Four years ago during the presidential election, people were calling for the creation of a cabinet level Culture Czar position. Presumably such a position would not only given arts and culture a higher profile and advocacy within the government, it would have likely resulted in some form of increased oversight and regulation. I wonder if everyone clamoring for the position considered the potential downside.

Given the increased scrutiny non profit charities are under across the country, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that the U.S. will get its own version of the board police.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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