Nonprofit Boards: Managing their Evolution

Larry Tucker

Author: Larry Tucker

Executive Coaches of Orange County

Nonprofit Boards are as different as snowflakes. In fact, each nonprofit board changes over time, so an executive director is challenged to adjust his style to be effective with this ever-evolving group.

In the Management Assistance Group’s paper, Board Passages: Three Stages in a Nonprofit Board’s Lifecycle, Karl Mathiasen, III, effectively presents the three evolution stages of a nonprofit board: Organizing Board, Governing Board and Institutional Board. As Mr. Mathiasen warns, however, these transitions are not necessarily natural occurrences, but in fact require active management of the process.

Organizing boards are typically created by the leader with the vision who founded the nonprofit organization. These boards are often comprised of friends, associates and family members of the founder and are typically quite passive, allowing the founder to continue her leadership role.

My experience has been that the most difficult transitions (and often the period when nonprofit organizations fail) occur in this phase from Organizing Board to Governing Board when the founder struggles to lead the organization beyond her initial vision.

 My message to those organizations in the early stages of life who find themselves with Organizing Boards:

  • Read the linked article. It creates a map showing a destination your organization could reach if you manage the process effectively.
  • Start planning now. Accept the fact that in order for your organization to succeed long-term, it will need to grow and mature.
  • Recognize that it will be hard. Some of the most difficult conversations might be those where you have to tell your friends they are no longer needed on your board.

So, perhaps the critical message is the same for Organizing Boards as it is for any organization: If you haven’t recently discussed what your organization and board will look like in five years, now is the time!