Often nonprofit organizations begin as a result of a group of like minded people recognizing a need, and stepping up to fill that need – kudos to them!

And so begins the ‘working board’.

As the organization grows it may be best to transition the board to become more outward facing governance based, than inward facing operational based.

So, how do we move forward? Together, transparently, and with a clear plan!

According to Susan Radwan, Modern Board – Capacity Canada: ’Many boards of charitable organizations are working boards. However, if the board only addresses projects that repeat year after year, then the function of the board is more like being a volunteer staff…. Governing is where the strategic thought process lives. This transition is one of the toughest areas of growth that many organizations face’.1

Let’s focus on the last line, ‘…toughest areas of growth that many organizations face’. This presents an opportunity for the organization to grow in a focused way but you need to make sure that the affected stakeholders, board and senior staff are all in favor of this change; of moving to become more outward facing governance based, than inward facing operational based.

If they are, then here is a plan:

  1. Begin with Board professional development – lets help the Board understand the various ways that nonprofits can govern themselves and various ways that board members can be involved. And to know that regardless of the Board style, all boards need to govern, whether working boards or governance boards.2

  2. Let’s have honest discussions about what these changes mean to each board member, and uncover any fears or objections. Sometimes members may fear they will lose touch with what the organization is doing. Or that they will no longer be able to contribute in a meaningful way. Or perhaps a board member simply wants to be involved in operations, sleeves rolled up and ‘on the floor’ so to speak.

  3. As a result of this work various adaptations can be explored and plans made to accommodate the transition and still satisfy people’s needs.

    • Creation of a clear transition plan is critical to success.

    • The use of committees can allow Board members to be involved beyond only in a governance capacity.

    • Understanding that a strategic approach (outward facing governance) to the organization’s path forward is the best way to assure the organization stays current and relevant.

To quote Susan Radwan once again: “I will say that the key to moving a board from working board to strategic board is twofold: 

1. The board must agree that this is what they want, and 

2. The content of the agenda must change.

It is my view that when the Executive Director creates the agenda for the board it will be an operational agenda because that is the world of the person creating the agenda. There is a saying, “We serve the source of our communication.” which is the case when the ED creates that agenda. Whereas, if the board creates its own agenda (or at least a critical part of it) focusing on issues of the community that they generally don’t have time to talk about with an operational agenda, then there is a possibility of getting them to a strategic place. I find that most board members want to make a substantive difference. That can generally only happen when the board is “outfacing” rather than focused on the internal operations.” 

There you have it, a basic process for consideration in transitioning from a working board to a governance board to assure your organization stays current and relevant to their mission.

1 Susan Radwan, Modern Board – Capacity Canada 2 Kevin Freedman, The Governance Guru

Talk soon,


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