Consensus Decision Making for boards of not-for-profits

Reaching decisions as a non-profit board comes in a variety of formats. A majority vote is a popular choice when a decision needs to be expedited. This method, however, does not always reveal the best solution for the board or the organization and can cause frustration among members. Ranking, scoring, and multiple voting rounds are all methods that can help a board further analyze options but do not necessarily get the board to a place of agreement. Consensus decision making, on the other hand, is a method that helps a board achieve unanimous support, even if the agreed-upon decision is not everyone’s favorite choice. 

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There are several benefits to making a decision using consensus, including buy-in from board members, the opportunity for all viewpoints to be heard, and the laying down of individual preferences for the greater good of the organization. These benefits far outweigh other methods of decision making, but consensus is not without its challenges. How do you successfully walk your board through this process? Here are 4 tips to help your organization with consensus decision making. 

Define the Consensus Decision Making Process

In some cases, your bylaws may require a vote in order to make a decision about one or more aspects of the organization. When voting isn’t required, however, opting for a consensus may be the best way forward. Before going through the process of consensus decision making, clearly define with the board what that process will look like. The first step to reaching a consensus is agreement on the path to get there, and board members who are motivated and willing to walk down that path together. 

Establish a Common Goal

As you approach the decision-making process, it is important to establish a common goal in regard to the organization. Working together as a team is easier and more fulfilling when trying to reach a joint objective. 

Create a Culture of Trust

One of the key aspects of consensus decision making is the opportunity for each board member to share their unique perspective. Without trust and honesty, and value for people with whom you might not agree, board members will have difficulty confidently sharing their various points of view. Trust breeds honesty, which in turn helps set you up to achieve common ground. 

Facilitate with Respect

Consensus decision making is not always easy, but carefully leading the discussion with respect changes the atmosphere of the process. Part of respectful facilitation includes making sure everyone has an opportunity to share, limiting dominant speakers, and encouraging participation. Facilitation also requires a leader to carefully share opinions without openly stating an opinion. Ensure all topics are discussed and all angles are considered before making a decision. 

Leading and managing a healthy, thriving organization involves walking your board through the sometimes laborious process of consensus decision making. While it is more involved than the expeditious majority vote, reaching a decision through consensus can lead to some of the most rewarding choices and changes that your organization will ever make. 

About Tom (TJ) Abbott

Tom (TJ) Abbott, CSP is the Managing Director of AMC NPO Solutions and an authority on Governance. He has over 25 years experience as CEO, President and board director of several not-for-profit organizations. Tom has also spoken in over 20 countries.

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