Sustainability encompasses both financial sustainability, the ability to generate resources to meet the needs of the present without compromising the future and programmatic sustainability, the ability to develop, mature, and cycle out programs to be responsive to constituencies over time.”
– Jeanne Bell, CEO  CompassPoint, an organization which increases the impact of nonprofit community based organizations.

While financial oversight is critical, board of directors must be knowledgeable about and actively engaged in the business model of their organization.  Nonprofit business models are typically a mix of programs and fundraising activities, which together achieve impactful and financial results.

The challenge facing a board of directors is how to shift from financial oversight and accountability to a board concerned with the financial sustainability of the organization.

To pivot from an oversight orientation to a sustainability orientation, begin the conversation with these discussion questions:

  • How financially literate are we as a group? If we have knowledge gaps, how will we work together to close them, and by when?
  • Is our finance committee engaging in the key business-model questions facing our organization or is it focused primarily on monitoring budget variance and preparing for the audit?
  • What major sustainability decisions does our organization face, and how will we structure our board and committee meeting agendas over the next three to four months to ensure we make those decisions effectively?
  • Overall, how healthy is our organization financially? Is it healthier today than it was three years ago?  Why or why not? When our board terms end, where do we want to leave the organization financially?
  • How strong is our partnership with staff leadership around issues of sustainability?  Are we sharing information and ideas across staff and board in a way that truly leverages our individual and collective strengths and networks as board members in the sustainability pursuit?

Keep Me Tax Free ( has staff who can facilitate these discussions to pivot from an oversight orientation board to a sustainability orientation board.

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