Understanding where your board lies in the nonprofit lifecycle is not only important for good board governance, it is fundamental for an organization’s overall strategic direction and growth.
The evolution and maturation of a nonprofit board should align with that of the chief executive, senior staff, and organizational operations. When they are not in alignment, conflict and regression often occur.
The process is not always linear. Just because an organization has achieved a major milestone in its history or has received a record-level contribution from a prominent donor does not mean that the organization has “nowhere to go but up.” It also does not create certainty that it has achieved the pinnacle of mission fulfillment.
Our team wrote about this dynamic in a previous column. In it we focused on the three stages of nonprofit boards according to BoardSource. Those three stages (plus the transition phases in between) are:
- Organizing/Founding Boards
- The Governing Board
- The Institutional Board
Two organizations in Central Ohio that we think very highly of are celebrating major anniversaries this year — 150 years for the Columbus Metropolitan Library and 50 years for the Greater Columbus Arts Council.
Given their status in our community and their level of sophistication when it comes to governance and operations, it can be said that both organizations have achieved the third, most mature stage of the board lifecycle: the institutional board.
One of the reasons we admire both organizations and believe they should be held up as models is because they do not rest on their laurels. They are not content with the status quo and are continually striving for new ways to engage the people and places that they serve.
The chief executives and boards of both organizations are respected and accomplished. They are always moving forward in new and interesting ways. Their collective commitments to diversity and community engagement are strategic elements of their success.
They are institutions not just because of their age, but because of the trust that they have earned.
As you think about what stage of the nonprofit lifecycle your organization is in, we encourage you to consider these questions:
- Has your board evolved and matured in tandem with your chief executive, senior staff, and operational practices?
- Does your board engage in strategy or does it get mired in the weeds?
- Does the community trust your organization inherently or does the trust only reside with the chief executive or board? Has trust been broken?
- Is your board diverse? Does the board culture support inclusion and belonging?
- Does the board engage in fundraising? Does the organization have the resources it needs?
- Are your board, chief executive, and senior staff accountable for their actions? Do they engage in self-assessment? Are they reflective?
- Are the governance and management systems, policies, and procedures sophisticated and followed by all or are they loosely held together?
- Has your organization celebrated a milestone or achievement in a way that fosters community engagement and deepens your connections?
- Is your board and organizational culture one that broadly welcomes questions, inquiry, and dialogue or are there incessant monologues from a few?
- Does your organization remain relevant to the people and places that your mission serves?
We are grateful for the leadership of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Greater Columbus Arts Council, and other institutional nonprofits in our community. We look forward to many more milestones and continued impact for years to come.
Article By: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO