Research on the MYTHS about Board governance

Adrianne DuMond

I have followed the work of Dr. David O. Renz, noted researcher and author on nonprofit governance and leadership. Recently he spoke on common myths that sometimes influence a Board of Directors’ actions. They are: 1) There are Best Practices for Board governance; 2) Board Chairs have demonstrable influence on performance, and 3) Attention to diversity is critical. Here are his thoughts on these three particular myths.

There are Best Practices for Board governance. Dr. Renz says that research shows that there are no standard best practices. He states that the practices need to be determined by the particular community it serves, and the size and maturity of the nonprofit. Of course there are legal and fiduciary practices that must be adhered to, but otherwise the procedures and policies must be determined by the standards and practices of the community.

Board Chairs have demonstrable influence on performance,

Nonprofit research shows that Board Chairs do have an impact, but it depends upon their style of leadership. If Chairs assume the role of facilitator in the interactions and leadership of the Board, they are much more effective. Board chairs should not be ‘take charge’ types (except in crisis). Their job is to mediate, clarify, and translate effectively the decisions of the Board.

Attention to diversity is critical.

Board diversity is important to an agency’s credibility and effectiveness. Many nonprofits are directing attention to the fact that their Boards are white, and tend to be older. The effort to rectify this situation takes the form of selecting a minority that represents the community being served. While this is a good practice, research is showing that there is failure to integrate them socially as well as functionally. Better results are achieved by including the selected person(s) in social settings, and making sure that Board members and staff are familiar with the neighborhoods, their culture and customs as well.

David O. Renz, Ph.D., is Department Chair of Public Affairs at the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership, University of Missouri/ Kansas City. He presented these thoughts on a Webinar sponsored by the NonProfit Quarterly on May 17, 2013.


Author:  Adrianne DuMond, Executive Coaches of Orange County,