7 Cage-Rattling Questions every board should answer


Imagine what it would be like to have a wide range of ideas, smarts, contacts, and resources emanating from the board room to move your organization forward?

What’s the best way to tap the talent, creativity, and passion of your board members?

It’s hard to think seriously about these visionary questions when so many of us are facing this:

“…mundane agendas, ritualized meetings, sterile discussions, passive roles, predetermined decisions, and wasted time – ingredients that sum up to a disengaged, underutilized board.

These were some of the responses from trustees who were asked to “attend and affirm” at board meetings, not to think.”

Richard Chait, author of the groundbreaking book Governance as Leadership with Barbara Taylor and William Ryan.

Many nonprofit leaders are breaking out of that old school way of governing. But it’s still alive and well for many nonprofits – large and small.

Are you asking the right questions?

Imagine that you’re walking into your board meeting. What’s different this time is that the board chair has set aside 45 minutes to discuss a carefully selected question.

It was sent out in advance and the board chair made it clear that this would be a conversation where disagreement, inquiry, and challenging assumptions was encouraged.

“I take it that everyone is in basic agreement about this decision?” Everyone nodded yes. 

Then I suggest we postpone the decision. Until we have some disagreement, we don’t understand the problem.”  

Alfred Sloan, CEO at GM

shutterstock_112399364As a part of this exercise, you were assigned a short reading to prepare for the discussion, and it was clear that there was an expectation that you come prepared to participate.

Now, how are you feeling walking into the meeting? Maybe a little nervous, but your brain is turned on and you’re curious. You can see possibility. 

When people get invested by contributing their ideas, talent, and creativity, they will move mountains. It’s human. Then, giving money becomes a no-brainer.

7 questions to consider for an upcoming board meeting  

These questions are adapted from 75 Cage-Rattling Questions to Change the Way You Work by Whitney and Giovagnoli. Which one will inspire a robust conversation at your board meeting?

1.  What is most important for your nonprofit to talk about and why?

2.  What change – if made in your nonprofit  – would enhance the organization?

3.  What skill – if you acquired it – would enhance your nonprofit?

4.  Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?

5.  What idea, if executed well, would dramatically change your nonprofit?

6.  What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?

7.  How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?

Here are a few guidelines to set the stage for a healthy dialogue.

  • Suspend judgment in order to hear the rationale behind the thinking of others.
  • Listen – without resistance – in order to learn.
  • Suspend the role and status of each individual in the conversation.
  • Respect differences.
  • Speak to the group – to the collective intelligence.
  • Speak when you’re moved to speak.


Stop.  Before you let them leave the room, make next step assignments.

Or schedule individual meetings between the chair/ED and board member to discuss how they might help address the response to these questions.


Ideas for follow-up assignments. 

  • Call xxx so find out how yyy organization does this.
  • Call xxx, the city council woman to ask her about yyy
  • Find some good training on XXX subject.

Spice up your routine. 

What’s your next big idea?

Tricia Dell is a fundraising coach, facilitator, and strategist for nonprofit organizations. Learn more at triciadell.com and follow her on twitter @triciadell.

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