The Changing Nature of Non-profit Governance

Adrianne DuMond

Recent research into the changing evolution of board governance sheds some interesting insights into the complexities of present and future governance for non-profits. We already see causes such as homelessness, human trafficking, and others clouding the boundaries between agencies and regional/government bodies.  What do these changes portend for how non-profits govern?

The recent Nonprofit Quarterly has published very challenging articles about the on-going changes. Dr. David O. Renz, University of Missouri, has compiled the latest research findings for an article in the Quarterly. My findings come from his article, which is annotated. He notes that in the field of ‘organizational studies’ it is widely accepted that any organization which does not align its design and structure to the challenges posed by its relevant external environment will not succeed. The design and structure must be contingent on the characteristics of that external environment. So what does this mean for non-profit boards?

Canadian researcher, Patricia Bradshaw, has said,” Traditional models of governance are no longer resilient enough to be effective in these new, complex environments. As these new, ‘messier’ forms of governance emerge they will need to meet systems that are more politicized, complex, and conflict ridden.”

Renz ends his article by stating that we are still learning. One thing we know is that there is no perfect model. He goes on to say, ” It is both useful and important to draw a closer distinction between the function of governance and the work of boards. The work of governance is no longer necessarily synonymous with the boundaries of any individual non-profit board, and even when it is, the alignment of the two constructs is not as simple as it once appeared to be”.

I propose that there are some elements of the construct (board) that are worth considering as boards struggle with governance issues. 

1) Composition of board membership: Assuring diversity and representation in the community, selecting experiences that reflect the politics of the alignment, good negotiating skills. 

2) Collaboration in strategic planning: Where are the efficiencies, the new needs, who best addresses those needs. How do those needs affect our mission and planning. Where are the overlaps?  

3) Transparent financials: Revenue and size may be listed in an annual report for a non-profit’s website.. But do we share the financials with other bodies? 

4) Partnering for public relations and marketing: Do we get a bigger ‘bang for the buck’ by partnering with other bodies that influence or serve our constituents? 

I would like to hear from those who are dealing with these changes. Please comment about your experiences and any advice you might have.

Author:  Adrianne DuMond, Executive Coaches of Orange County,