We’ve found that there’s been a lot of talk lately around good nonprofit governance, but at Olive Grove we don’t like to settle. We don’t think it’s quite enough to have a “good” board – we think every nonprofit should set its intentions on having a kick-ass board! So we recently polled our staff on what that would look like, and we are running a social media campaign under the hashtag #KickAssGovernance to find out what others think. We hope you will engage with us!
Here are just some of the components that we’re thinking fall under the “kick-ass” category:
#KickAssGovernance Involves Engaged, Committed Board Members
Olive Grove Senior Consulting Director, Jean K. Ries, defines the concept as including “a board that is connected, present and educated; its members understand their roles, their responsibilities, and are passionate about the organization it serves.” Anthony Tansimore, our VP of Leadership Impact, echoes this sentiment closely, saying, “Exceptional kickass boards are highly engaged, where members are committed to the mission, know their roles and hold themselves accountable.” Emily Hall, Founder & CEO of Olive Grove, says it simply “Kick-ass board members show up leveraging everything they’ve got, every time — not making excuses because they are ‘just volunteers.’”
#KickAssGovernance Involves Strategic Planning and Thinking
In Anthony’s experience, kick-ass boards also “engage actively in strategic thinking and planning to ensure they are achieving the mission.” Citing the most recent BoardSource Leading With Intent report, fellow Senior Consulting Director Mona Jones-Romansic identifies strategic thinking as an area of governance in need of significant improvement, emphasizing that “there’s a need to shift and really clearly define [members’] roles as strategic leaders.” According to the report, both Board Chairs and CEOs place strategic planning in the top five areas boards need improvement, with more than one third of boards receiving a ‘C’ grade on their performance. “Good governance can also be attributed to boards that put in place processes to watch over the organization and to provide appropriate oversight of activities and ensure financial sustainability,” adds Anthony. Emily appreciates the “Governance as Leadership” frame, assigning a critical role of boards to “sense-making” and generative thinking. Emily says, “If you read one book on governance, this is my favorite.”
#KickAssGovernance Involves Diversity Among Board Members, and Pays Attention to Culture
Jean, who has worked with nonprofit boards as both a member and consultant, bolsters the definition, adding that kick-ass governance also includes “a board that is diverse, composed of individuals with various skill sets, competencies, and links to the organization.” Boards are beginning to understand that in order to step up their governance game, they need to be tapping the community to find members that can help connect the mission to those it serves. Mona cautions boards to pay close attention to the culture of the group. “How to function as a group effectively can be a stumbling block for boards,” she points out, advising that “as a body they need to work together and understand how different people communicate differently, think differently, and lead differently.”
#KickAssGovernance Involves Effective Communication
One of the major requirements for kick-ass governance is open and honest communication between board members and the ED. Often times, leaders can be reluctant to reach out to board members because they are worried about how they’ll be perceived, about whether they appear to be in control, or about the board honing in on and micromanaging the organization. “It can get lonely at the top,” says Kristin Heller, another Olive Grove Senior Consulting Director, “In my experience as a board member what we forget a lot of times is the human aspect; as a member you’re there to oversee but you’re also there to support an Executive Director and the organization.” She advises board members to reach out to the ED to find out how they can provide valuable feedback and support. Jean adds that good communication includes “a board that challenges its Executive Director, that asks questions voraciously, but also respects the fine line between management and governance, and the expertise and perspective that the ED and its leadership team brings to the table.”
#KickAssGovernance Means They Have Your Back, Regardless of the Situation
Emily says she knows the board is kick-ass when she feels they could navigate any situation with integrity and courage. “Those executives with kick-ass boards know the board members are equally engaged whether facing a great opportunity, or a great challenge. They show up fully, every time, and are equally thoughtful in any situation. They hold the interests of the mission foremost always, are great critical thinkers, navigate with an ethical framework, can have constructive and direct conversations, and have high emotional intelligence.”
In our recent discussions on the topic, these have been the components that have most commonly been mentioned as we flesh out the concept of kick-ass governance. No doubt this definition will continue to evolve as we further speak with those in the field about what the idea means to them. We welcome feedback from our partners in the sector so that we may broaden our understanding of the notion, enabling us to develop even better strategies to achieve kick-ass governance.
Feel inspired? What’s your definition of governance? Share with us on Twitter (@OG_Consult) using the #KickAssGovernance hashtag!