Navigating Mindful Leadership: Understanding Three Types of Nonprofit Board Governance

I recently attended a nonprofit conference brimming with innovative ideas and groundbreaking nonprofit research. One session particularly caught my attention as it delved into redefining the role of nonprofit boards. Yeah! I agree, we need a new model. While the notion of community-centric governance models is exciting, the reality is that change takes time. So, for now, let’s take a closer look at three prevailing nonprofit governance models: fiduciary, strategic, and generative. Fiduciary Boards: The Watchdogs Imagine a fiduciary board as the vigilant watchdog of a nonprofit. Its primary function is safeguarding assets, ensuring that organizational resources are used judiciously, and maintaining an eye on legal and ethical compliance (e.g., Sarbanes-Oxley). This model is all about stewardship. Fiduciary boards ask questions about opportunity costs, questions about audits, and assessing how well the budget aligns with the mission. Strategic Boards: Beyond Compliance, Toward Goals Moving a step beyond compliance, a strategic board aims to set goals and execute a well-thought-out plan. The board scans internal and external environments (e.g., SWOT analysis), establishes priorities, and reviews and tweaks strategic plans. The board may ask questions about alignment with strategic priorities and competition in the landscape. Generative Boards: Intentional and Mindful Ideally, we aspire for generative boards — the visionary leaders of nonprofits. These boards ensure fiduciary needs are met and there is a strategy, but they go beyond those conversations. These boards go beyond the logical and the established, thinking outside the box and even outside the room. Their central purpose is to be a source of leadership for the organization. The core work involves deciding what to decide, probing assumptions, logic, and values behind strategies, and framing “better” problems and opportunities. The board brainstorms, allows pregnant pauses for processing, and asks questions about how decisions align with the mission. The board reflects on how it spends its time, using tools like a consent agenda to ensure time is not wasted on routine, noncontroversial items. All three governance models are crucial in ensuring nonprofit organizational effectiveness. However, achieving generative governance requires an intentional and critical thinking approach. They embrace a learning culture and continuously explore ways to prepare for the future. As we navigate nonprofit leadership, it’s essential to acknowledge that the journey toward generative governance may take time, but the destination promises a more dynamic and resilient nonprofit sector. Follow me on social media @drtheresarickekiely on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. #mindfulleadership #nonprofitleadership Watch for my upcoming book on mindful nonprofit leadership coming soon!