Spring 2018 Generations

GENERATIONS – Journal of the American Society on Aging

Building a Strong Nonprofit Board Goes Beyond Best Practices By Gayle Northrop Board evolution involves changing how board members think, act, and interact with one another.

A s president of Northrop Nonproft Consult- ing, I have worked with nonprofts and non- governmental organizations around the world on strategy, organization development, gover- nance, and change management. Frommy expe- rience, I have learned that despite signifcant differences in the context and communities in which nonproft boards work, the fundamentals of building a strong board are the same across all types of nonprofts. I hope that the information in this article will resonate with and prove valu- able to readers striving to build partnerships between community-based organizations (CBO) and healthcare entities. Board Stages of Development “Boards are not—and should not—be static. To be effective, they must change and evolve as their organizations change and grow” (Board- Source, 2017a). This is as much the case in the healthcare space as any other segment of the nonproft sector, and I have certainly found it to be true in my twenty years of working with nonproft boards. On the other hand, best prac- tices in governance—a set of structures and

activities that boards should consistently imple- ment—does connote something static, or rigid. Can the same set of best practices be applied to boards at different stages in their development? I would argue that not only can they be applied, but also that nonproft leaders can use many of these practices to help move their organization through the development stages. BoardSource, the leading organization in the United States focused on strengthening and sup- porting nonproft board leadership, describes the following stages in a nonproft board’s develop- ment or lifecycle: Organizing/Founding; Govern- ing; and Institutional (BoardSource, 2017a). In each stage, boards tend to have common charac- teristics, and experience similar challenges and strains, regardless of the type of organization or scope of its operations. Understanding these stages and the common passages or transitions between them can give nonproft leaders perspec- tive about where their board is in relation to other boards and stages, provide relief in knowing they’re not alone in what they are experiencing and, in some cases, motivate urgency to accelerate their organization’s transition to the next stage.

abstract The fundamentals of building a strong board of directorsare relevant across the nonprofit sector, and most boards go through three stages:Organizing/Founding; Governing; and Institutional, which do not necessarily correlate with the amount of time since the board’s founding. Boards need a governance committee and an established assessment process, as well as a plan for cultivating diver- sity. | key words : board governance, board growth, board development, board diversity, best practices

56 | Spring 2018

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