It used to be that boards and governance were substantially the same: the two concepts overlapped. But with time and a radically changing environment, the domain of “governance” has moved beyond the domain of “the board.” — Dr. David O. Renz
The Nonprofit Quarterly recently published a revised version of Dr. David Renz’s seminal article Reframing Governance. Dr. Renz reminds us (again) the governance and the board of directors are not the same thing. While the board is essentially a structure, governance is a function that extends beyond the board and the organization…into the community.
Historically nonprofit organizations were formed to address specific community problems. And boards were put into place to ensure that those organizations actually addressed those problems as directed by their mission statement. The effectiveness of this single organization approach has increasingly been challenged due to the scale and complexity of the problems that communities now face. Many organizations do not have the resources or the size to effectively address these complex problems.
Dr. Renz points to the development of Inter-Organizational Alliances and Coalitions as a new tool to address these complex community problems. What one organization cannot address alone can often be addressed by multiple organizations working together. As these new alliances have evolved, Dr. Renz describes the need to create Extra-Organizational entities that can govern the multi-organizational work. The structure of these new entities can be as complex as the alliances themselves and requires new thinking about governance.
If organizations do not enter into these new alliances and continue to address these issues alone they risk on-going viability and relevance. Not only will their effectiveness at addressing community problems likely diminish, they may face decrease financial support which decreases organizational capacity. Some organizations may eventually starve and cease to exist.
As a board leader, your first responsibility is to ensure that the mission of your organization continues to meet the needs in your community. Your second responsibility is to ensure that an effective governance system is in place that will ensure the success of your mission.
As we look to the future, Dr. Renz reminds you and your board colleagues that you may need to reframe your governance system and look beyond your organization to ensure continued mission success in your community. While this reframing process will be uncomfortable and unfamilar, it is necessary.
As you go through this process of reframing you may feel like a fish out of water…but eventually your governance system capacity to ensure mission success will be enhanced.