Building a Constructive Partnership for Exceptional Board Governance

What does it mean for a board and chief executive to be in “constructive partnership?” And why is a constructive partnership a critical component of a nonprofit’s success?

We go to BoardSource for the answer.

Scholar Richard Chait was the co-author of a BoardSource book called Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards. The book describes constructive partnership as focusing primarily on effective collaboration rather than on effective control.

Chait introduced “generative governance” in addition to the strategic and fiduciary modes of nonprofit board governance. In an interview, he said, “limited purpose produces limited performance” and when “the work of the board becomes truly more consequential, meaningful and influential, the performance of the board will rise.”

To get the board operating in this generative mode, the board and chief executive must have a relationship rooted in trust and based on a mutually shared goal of mission fulfillment. Improving your board agenda is a first step in moving your board toward generative governance.

Chait was also the co-author of The Source: 12 Principles of Governance That Power Exceptional Boards, which is a powerful read and one that we share with clients often. The constructive partnership concept is the first principle of the twelve because it is fundamental to good governance.

“Exceptional boards become allies with the chief executive in pursuit of the mission. They understand that they and the chief executive bring essential, complementary ingredients to the governance partnership that, when combined, are greater than the sum of their parts.

Exceptional boards recognize that they cannot govern well without the chief executive’s collaboration and that the chief executive cannot lead the organization to its full potential without the board’s unflagging support.

Exceptional boards forge a partnership with the chief executive characterized by mutual trust, forthrightness, and a common commitment to mission. They encourage a strong, honest chief executive to pose questions and offer answers, and to share bad news early and openly. In turn, chief executives provide boards with tools and information to govern exceptionally.”

We often say that the single most important relationship in a nonprofit organization is between the board and chief executive, and the second most important relationship is among board members themselves.

We encourage nonprofit leaders to consider the following:

  • How healthy are the relationships between the board and chief executive in your organization, and are they based in trust?
  • Does your board operate in a generative mode in addition to their fiduciary and strategic roles?
  • How strong is the constructive partnership?

If your organization has a constructive partnership between the chief executive and board, how are you cultivating this dynamic and mode of operating? If your organization is not yet operating in this way, we’re happy to help.

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