Reinventing governance: what’s fixed, what is changeable?

In preparing for a series of workshops on reinventing governance and board redesign for the Barr-Klarman Arts Capacity Building initiative, I discovered a fabulous governance framework from the Reimagining Governance Lab of the Ontario Nonprofit Network. What was a real AHA moment for me was their articulating what’s fixed, and what is changeable about governance.

Four boxes that say Culture, Processes, Structures, PeopleIn the fixed category are the legal, regulatory and compliance necessities that must be met by boards. After that, you are in the “Design Playground,”  empowered to reconsider the structures, people, processes and culture that make up your governance system.

You can use their road map to map your current governance system and then identify areas that can be changed. We know from research into boards that excellence in governance is conditional on the unique circumstances of each nonprofit. Factors such as size of the professional staff, organizational values, life cycle, field of activity, funding model, external players — to name a few —  all influence the governance of your nonprofit. So your organization needs to be very intentional about crafting its own governing system.

Where to start.

One place to start as you approach reinventing governance is to define the principles or values underpinning your governance. I’ve written about that here.

Then, think about the competencies that need to be built into your governance system. Those competencies might include:

  • Ecosystem focus
  • Ability to move from visioning to strategic thinking to strategic action
  • Mutual accountability
  • Facilitative leadership
  • Shared decision-making
  • Shared leadership
  • Cultural competence
  • Anti-racism orientation
  • Organizational learning
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Listening
  • Community Engagement
  • Moral and philanthropic compasses

Be careful of falling into calling any common practice a “best practice” if by best practice you mean evidence-based practice. For example, one of my pet peeves is the slinging around of board term limits as a “best practice.” I’ve written about the pros and cons before.  (See also Lions and Longevity.)

Here are a few other readings to help you get started, but do scroll through our blog where you’ll find many more.

Principles of nonprofit governance?

Your challenge: designing an exciting board meeting

Watch your board meeting seating arrangements

Who Took the Farmer’s Hat and how reflective dialogue can be good for your board

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