Giving Compass’ Take:
• The author explains the challenges that board members face navigating the world of NGOs and how they must adapt as the NGO changes.
• Why can there sometimes be a disconnect or tension present between board members and the founders of an organization?
• Read about the best practices to follow when recruiting nonprofit board members.
This vignette may seem all-too-familiar to some NGO leaders and board members. It frames three endemic sources of tension in NGO governance:
- Who rules: How should decision-making be apportioned between the board and NGO leaders?
- Toward what healthy vision of board-management relations should NGO leaders and their boards aspire?
- How can the leaders and the board best manage—and serve—each other?
These questions about organizational governance are almost universally relevant to organizations in the for-profit, government, and NGO spheres. Friction between a board and the leaders it oversees wastes time and energy, distracts an organization from its mission, and prompts high leadership turnover—an enduring problem in the NGO world.
The role of NGOs in civic life has grown substantially since the 1960s. To advance the agenda of diverse interest groups, they have expanded their ranks and reach. NGOs can shape public policies and provide targeted social services, but their success depends on effective leadership and governance. Failure to meet rising expectations of constituents and other stakeholders undercuts support and endangers their long-term sustainability.
But while NGOs today are increasingly viewed as representing the vox populi—the voice of the people—they are subject to caricature. Many are portrayed as poorly managed, inadequately financed groups of passionate cause activists—litigious critics of government policy working on the political fringes. These portrayals are misleading. They obscure the important role both conservative and liberal NGOs play in US policymaking, as well as the growing sophistication of NGOs as they gain resources and micro-targeting capabilities.
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Based on our field experience as NGO leaders and board members, and a broad review of published research, we offer this list of 10 board management best practices:
- Focus on core competencies to avoid mission creep.
- Plan strategically, informed by research.
- Invest in internal, external, and crisis communications.
- Manage board relations and succession planning.
- Set development benchmarks and hold onto membership ties.
- Establish accountable, adaptable leadership.
- Shore up human resources and legal guidance.
- Build a strong coalition of stakeholders and gain their input.
- Be sensitive to organizational culture.
- Recruit talented team members.
Read the full article about governing NGOs by Robert F. Bruner & Gerald F. Warburg at Stanford Social Innovation Review
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