Plenty of scholarly and research-driven articles have proposed how to develop rigorous systems and processes for effective board governance. However, these systems and processes must rest on a strong foundation of a healthy, productive board culture. Each board culture is uniquely shaped by board members’ ideologies and beliefs, as well as their relationships with nonprofit leadership and staff, external partners, and one another. A robust board culture can fuel board effectiveness and help nonprofits achieve their mission in sustainable ways.

This article advocates for a vision of board service that disrupts oppressive mindsets and behaviors, using the concepts of colonization and liberation to improve board culture so that the nonprofits those boards serve can achieve their missions. Certainly, an unavoidable power dynamic exists between a nonprofit’s leadership and board. The CEO, after all, reports to the board. However, the distinction I am making concerns how that dynamic can play out in a way that does not replicate or perpetuate harmful, discriminatory biases or behaviors.

This article draws from my decade-plus of experience as both a board member and an independent consultant. I have served on several nonprofit boards (often as board chair, officer, or committee chair) and have experienced a variety of board cultures, which have yielded different kinds of successes and challenges. As an independent consultant, I work with many nonprofits to develop their strategic plans and then engage their boards in understanding their role to lead and support those plans.

  1. Be Part of the Solution
  2. Lead With Abundance
  3.  Share the Work
  4. Engage Productively in the Process
  5. Let the Mission Set the Agenda
  6. Upend Traditional Power Dynamics
  7. Share Your Networks
  8. Respect the Leadership Team
  9. Value Well-Being

Read the full article about decolonizing boards by Natalie A. Walrond at Stanford Social Innovation Review.