‘Designated contrarians’ could improve nonprofit boards by disrupting the kind of consensus and groupthink that contributed to the NRA’s woes

More than three years after New York authorities sued the National Rifle Association and four of its current and former leaders, the trial will begin on Jan. 8, 2024.

In her complaint, New York Attorney General Letitia James alleges that outgoing NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre “exploited the organization for his financial benefit, and the benefit of a close circle of NRA staff, board members, and vendors,” ultimately diverting over US$63 million from legitimate uses.

I’m a nonprofit law scholar. Together with Claire Hill, a University of Minnesota law professor, I’ve explored one way nonprofits might theoretically avert debacles, both large and small, in the future. We believe nonprofit boards should require their members to take turns serving as “designated contrarians.” When it’s their turn for this role, board members would be responsible for asking critical questions and pushing for deeper debate about organizational decisions.

State law in New York, where the NRA is chartered, tasks boards of directors with the ultimate oversight over nonprofits and their leaders.

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