Everything has a life cycle.
Humans, of course, grow from infancy to adulthood. Companies can grow from start-up to global. Brands can come and go, and products or services can shift from essential to obsolete in a short amount of time.
This evolution happens in nonprofits, too.
The maturation of a nonprofit board is dynamic — not static — and may not always be a linear progression.
I presented to a board this week whose leaders shared that the growth of the organization has outpaced the growth and development of the board. I asked about the power dynamic — whether the power rests with the chief executive while the board is on the sidelines or if the power rests with the board and the chief executive tries their best to keep up with directives.
In our work, understanding whether there is parity in the power dynamic or if it’s off balance is critical to understanding the culture of the organization.
Culture plays a significant role throughout the life cycle of nonprofits. BoardSource has an overview of the stages that nonprofit boards move through over time, which is based on the work of Karl Mathiasen III.
The three stages, which are presented as food for thought, rather than best practice, are as follows:
- Organizing/Founding Boards
These boards are small in size, homogenous, and informal. There are two types of organizing/founding boards:
- Organizing boards that follow the leader have a strong commitment to the vision of the founder or leader, do not fundraise, and are not task oriented because the founder or leader will typically pick up what they do not do. The inflection point for a transition comes when the founder or leader can’t keep doing it all and needs help managing the growing complexity of the organization. Board members are asked to do more, resulting in tension.
- Organizing boards that lead or control the organization are those where members have played a role in creating the organization, do participate in fundraising, are task oriented, and hesitate on hiring or trusting staff because they have been the doers. The inflection point here is different as the board cannot cope and the staff demands more responsibility. The increasing resentment is difficult and the board struggles to define its role.
- The Governing Board
These boards have a more balanced relationship between board and staff and share power and authority. They become larger and more diverse than organizing/founding boards with an active committee structure and involvement in fundraising. The chief executive spends considerably more time with committees, board orientation, individual meetings with board members, and developing a strong relationship with the board chair.
The transition is not as difficult as it was from an organizing/founding board and is often matched with a need for more fundraising.
- The Institutional Board
These boards are larger, more prestigious, more diverse, have a formal committee structure, and focus on the big picture because professional staff manages the work. They are accountable to their own goals, which are often aligned with the organization’s public visibility and oversight.
Do you see your board in these descriptions? We’d love to hear where you think your organization is on Mathiasen’s model of board passages.
Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO